Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Misener, L.


Using ethnographic methodology, my dissertation research examined the experiences of members of the para sport community with high-performance sport. The intent of the research was to capture the many voices of the Paralympic community and privilege their experience of high-performance sport. Historically the lived experience of sport and competition of para sport ‘insiders’ has not been foregrounded in the sport science literature but for a few noteworthy exceptions (Berger, 2008; Howe 2008, 2017; McMaster, Culver, & Werthner, 2012). Ethnographic methods were used for data collection including interviews with and participant observation of para sport athletes and their entourage. Data collection took place at Commonwealth Games XXI, held at Gold Coast, Australia in 2018. As a sport medicine professional and veteran of high-performance sport including multiple Paralympic Games, my positionality is that insider-outsider positionality throughout the research. Initially, the research explored medicalized spaces and the embodiment of medical encounters during competition. The emergent nature of ethnographic research indicated the importance of sporting spaces on the experiences of inclusion and exclusion at these Games. Because of the integrated model of competition utilized by Commonwealth Games, exploration of athlete and non-athlete perspectives regarding integration was material to the project. The findings of this project reveal that medicalized assumptions around impaired bodies and athletic ability persist. Subtle acts of ableism impact the lived experience of high-performance for para sport insiders and continue to inform sporting spaces and practices. The realization of integration of para and able-bodied sport requires active pursuit, committed leadership and trustworthy knowledge of the experience of para sport athletes and others whose lives are intimately informed by para sport.

Summary for Lay Audience

My Doctoral research explored the experiences of members of the para sport community within the context of high-performance sport. The focus of the project was to highlight the voice and perspectives of a variety of members of the para sport community to better understand some of the socio-cultural factors that impact high-performance para sport. Historically, too little research has examined experience of impairment and athleticism from the perspective of para sport ‘insiders’.Data collection took place at Commonwealth Games XXI hosted at Gold Coast, Australia in 2018. Research methods included interviews with and observation of para sport athletes, sport administrators, health care professionals, spectators and Games volunteers. As a sport physiotherapist and veteran of multiple Paralympic Games, the research focused on medical encounters between para sport athletes and medical professionals. However as the research progressed, the event space in which the Games took place became significant because of its ability to include/exclude members of the para sport delegation. Commonwealth Games are an integrated Games where para and able-bodied athletes complete concurrently. Because of this, exploration of the para sport experience of integration in sport was material to the project. The research findings suggest that social assumptions around impaired bodies and athletic ability persist. These assumptions equate bodily impairment with flawed or lesser athletic ability. These attitudes continue to impact medical encounters, to privilege able-disabled athletes, and influence how event spaces are built. Finally, many non-athletes believe that integration is a positive trend in high-performance sport. However and in sharp contrast with this finding, interviews with para sport athletes themselves indicate highly diverse and potentially divisive opinions regarding the merits of integration in sport.