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Commentary: Nation surfing for Paralympic glory

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A few months ago, I was reading a story about Becky Hammon, the first female assistant coach in the NBA, and how she was scorned in parts of the USA Basketball community because she attained Russia citizenship in order to play for their national team after having been passed over for the American team.  This led me to think about conversations I’ve had with people about the various merits of one country or another when it comes to Paralympic sport, who is best and where you can get the most support.  In a strange world where you’re discovered you’re an elite athlete and you want to go the distance for fame, fortune and Paralympic glory, which country should you get citizenship to achieve all your goals?  This is a bit more common in sports like football, and I’ve only rarely heard stories of it on the Paralympic level.

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But let’s play this speculation game.  Where should the aspiring, young, world traveling disability athlete go?  For disability sports, there are several factors to consider.  The first is disability type.  The second, tied very much into the first, is the particular sport.  The third is gender.  The fourth is money, jobs and health care.  And not all factors are equal inside a country, so there is no easy answer.

 

What follows is a brief look at some countries, in the context of those four variables.  Agree or disagree with this analysis? What countries are amongst the best in the world or their regions for Paralympic sport?

 

 Albania

Albania is one of those countries where you might want to give them a pass.  They have only participated in one Paralympic Games, and have yet to win a medal.

 

If you’re a vision impaired athlete, the country lacks a strong tradition in the sport. Albanian Blind Association is the newly recognized IBSA affiliate, so you might have some resources if you can get in with them to support your sporting career in vision impaired sport. If you’re a cyclist, that the only sport where Albania has sent a competitor to the Games, so you may find some minimal support for you in the country. If you’re looking for shooting, Albania does not appear to have much depth in the sport.  The country didn’t send anyone to the world championships held earlier this year. The country isn’t very involved with swimming, and didn’t send a single competitor to this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 6.0%.  The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 99.7%.  In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 55th best in the world.  The gist of it is the health care isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either.  If you’re an athlete and something happens, you will probably be expected to pay a lot out of pocket.  Ouch.

 

 Australia

With a long tradition of winning, Australia is a country where a Paralympic medal could be yours.  The country ranks sixth all time with 1032 medals.  That’s about 0.00004 medals per person living in Australia. Amongst the countries listed here, Australia is one of your best bets. They really pull their weight in terms of number of medals per person, with only Finland and Sweden outperforming them on this metric.

 

If you’re female, Australia offers a whole lot of opportunities in swimming, athletics, goalball, wheelchair basketball, equestrian, cycling, skiing, and shooting.  High needs female athletes though will struggle in finding a place in pretty much any sport outside shooting.  Wheelchair rugby has few to no women in the places that matter.  Boccia is also pretty much dominated by men.   There isn’t much room for women here, except possibly in disability sports outside the Paralympic purview like powerchair football and powerchair hockey.

 

If you want to play football, Australia is not the place to go.  The country does not have a 5-a-side national side, and the 7-a-side team has basically folded following funding cuts.  There was a campaign to raise money to insure the team, ranked tenth in the world, could continue to play but it is unclear if that happened.  The country has a national powerchair football team, but this is not supported by the Australian Paralympic Committee, nor by the Australian Institute of Sport.  It doesn’t look like the sport will be added to the Paralympic program any time soon to change this picture. If goalball is your sport, it is currently getting support from the Australian Institute of Sport who are supporting it as a potential medal sport for the 2016 and 2020 Paralympic Games.

 

If you’re into boccia, the sport has been marked as a development sport by the Australian Institute of Sport, and the program is undergoing a resurgence in the country following a long period of decline.  The changes on the governmental level are also being seen inside the national sport federation, Boccia Australia, who have redone their website and are in the process of creating a national ranking system.  They now have a much more active and competitive domestic competition with state and territory championships. If you want to come to Australia and play the sport, you probably should base yourself on the east coast as Western Australia and the Northern Territory appear a bit left behind here.

 

If swimming is your sport, the country has a really good history with the sport. Three swimmers from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport.  The country was second at the 2012 Paralympic Games in terms of total medals with 37 total medals. The country also won medals in swimming at this year’s Commonwealth Games, and then went on to win more at the Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships. Further, swimming is supported as an elite sport in Australia, with individual swimmers able to get athletics scholarships from the Australian government.

 

If wheelchair rugby is your sport, Australia is currently ranked number one in the world and are current world champions.  They have worked hard in the past few years to get to this state, and shift the power base of the game back to Oceania.  If you’re female though, good luck getting in the door.  To my knowledge, they’ve yet to have a woman on the team.

 

It is possible to launch your wheelchair tennis career from Australia or New Zealand, but you’ll struggle on the financial front. You’ll need to get points and climb the international ranks to earn a qualifying berth to the Paralympic Games.  The sport isn’t part of the development scheme in either country, so you’ll have limited government financial sport though some will be available by virtue of being an EAD.  Most competitions are played in Europe and North America.   And unlike other sports, the visibility inside the country is often times less than swimming, athletics, wheelchair basketball or wheelchair rugby.

 

 

On the employment front, when not competing in sport, it may be a bit of a struggle. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization puts the employment rate of people with disabilities at 41.9%.  Supporting your sporting endeavors through work may be problematic. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might also make the country more desirable as the country is one of the global leaders in terms Physiotherapists per 10 000 population. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.1%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 56.0%. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 32nd best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 32nd best in the world.  What does this all mean?  If you’re worried about injury, Australia is not necessarily a bad place to be.  The government covers a fair number of your health costs, and the system is one of the better ones in the world.

 

 Brazil 

Brazil ranks twenty-fifth all time in total medals with 235.  More importantly, they are the top ranked South American country.  When population size is factored in, that’s 0.000001182 medals per person.  This isn’t a country to go to insure success, because they have a large population who just are not winning medals at a comparable rate to their population size.

 

If you’re football crazy and male with a vision impairment, then Brazil might be worth considering.  The country has won Paralympic medals in the sport. If you’re a boccia player, Brazil could be your top choice country based on quality of sport alone.  The country led all others in medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games. If swimming is your sport, the country has a really good history with the sport. A swimmer from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport.

 

If you’re a visually impaired competitor requiring a guide, you may run into problems.  The major disability sporting organizations have been arguing for a while that guides should be recognized as athletes in their own right, and eligible for funding.  They currently are not, which could make it harder for you to find one to seriously train with.

 

 

Making the country even more unattractive, a 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might be problematic as the country has one of the worst ratios in terms occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.3%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 57.8%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 125th best in the world.  If you need healthcare, Brazil may be one of those places you want to avoid because it ranks so poorly and getting care may be difficult.

 

Money is possible in Brazil, because the country is pouring lots of it into the Paralympic Movement ahead of the 2016 Games.  Downside, if you’re not already on that ship, it may have sailed.  There is a real question of lasting legacy after the Games in terms of athlete funding.  Brazil looks like it has the potential to go the way of Greece.

 

 

 Canada

Canada is one of those countries that loves their Paralympic medals.  They rank fifth all time in total medals won, with a whopping 1082.  That’s 0.000031 medals per person.  Amongst the countries listed here, Canada is one of your best bets. They really pull their weight in terms of number of medals per person, with only Finland, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand outperforming them on this metric.

 

If wheelchair rugby is your sport, then Canada is not a bad place to be.  The country has a long legacy of doing well in the sport.  Better yet, they’ve had women on their national team. If swimming is your sport, the country has a really good history with the sport. Two swimmers from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport.

 

A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might also make the country more desirable as the country is one of the global leaders in terms Physiotherapists per 10 000 population. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. On the employment front, when not competing in sport, it may be a bit of a struggle. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization puts the employment rate of people with disabilities at 56.3%.  Supporting your sporting endeavors through work may be problematic. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 10.9%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 50.1%. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 30th best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 30th best in the world.  You’re not making a bad choice to go to Canada if health care is an issue for you during your future sports career.

 

 Central African Republic

If you’re seeking fame, glory and Paralympic medals, the Central African Republic is one of those countries to give a serious pass to.  Their NPC lacks a web page.  They country has only participated in three Paralympic Games and has yet to win a medal.

If you’re a vision impaired athlete in CAR, your chances are even more limited.  The country has never sent a vision impaired competitor to the Paralympic Games. If you’re looking for shooting, CAR does not appear to have much depth in the sport.  The country didn’t send anyone to the world championships held earlier this year.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 3.8%.  The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 90.5%.  In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 189th best in the world.  Basically, if you need health care, you’ll have to pay it out of pocket, have trouble finding it and it will be low quality care.  If you need another reason to avoid CAR as your Paralympic nation of choice to move to, this is a rather compelling one.

 

Given the political instability in the country, which does not look like it will be resolved any time soon, it might not be the best time to swap citizenship and head to CAR.

 

 China

If you want a Paralympic medal, China is one of the countries to consider.  They’ve won 794 all time and ranked seventh for the total number won.  Still, the number of medals per person is 5.87712805e-7, which means your chances relative to the size of the population are tiny to the point of none.   The only place you’d have worse odds of making the team and medalling amongst the countries that have won medals discussed here would be Pakistan.

 

Unlike Greece and the United States, the country appears to still be building on their Paralympic legacy following the 2008 Games. If you’re football crazy and male with a vision impairment, then Brazil might be worth considering.  The country has won Paralympic medals in the sport. If you’re a swimmer, China is well worth considering as the country positively cleaned up at the 2012 Paralympic Games, winning an amazing 58 total medals.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 5.4%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 78.0%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 144th best in the world.  This suggests that you may want to give a pass to China in the early stages of the development of your sporting career.

 

 Finland

With 437 total medals, Finland ranks sixteenth in the world in terms of total all time Paralympic medals.  They could be seriously worth considering.  That’s a ratio of 0.0000803 medals per person. Amongst the countries listed here, Finland is actually your best bet.   They get a large number of medals considering their small population size.

 

The country isn’t very involved with swimming, and sending only four competitors to this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, three of them male which suggests that the situation may be better for elite male athletes in the country.

 

A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might also make the country more desirable as the country is one of the global leaders in terms Physiotherapists per 10 000 population. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.1%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 75.7%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 31st best in the world. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 31st best health system in the world.  Finland is not necessarily a bad option, and would be seriously worth considering.

 

 

 

 France

Winning a medal is highly possible with France.  The country ranks fourth all time in Paralympic medals with 1148.  That’s a ratio of 0.000017 medals per person.   Though as a percentage of the population? Spain, Germany, Poland, France, Great Britain.  Take your pick.  The ratio is about the same, and your odds of making the team and winning a medal are not significantly different.

 

If you’re football crazy and male with a vision impairment, then France might be worth considering.  The country has won Paralympic medals in the sport. If swimming is your sport, the country has a really good history with the sport. A swimmer from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport. The country didn’t do so well at this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, finishing tenth in total medal count.  Their delegation also wasn’t that large, with only nine swimmers of which four were male and five were female.

 

Making the country a bit unattractive, a 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might be problematic as the country has one of the worst ratios in terms occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.1%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 32.1%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the best in the world. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 1st best health system in the world.  You may have difficulty getting care, but when you do, it shouldn’t put you out of house and home and it should be excellent care.  This could and should almost put France near the top of some people’s lists.

 

 

 

 Germany

Germany is one of the Paralympic medal winning powerhouses, finishing third all time with 1668, one fewer than second ranked Great Britain.   That’s 0.0000203 medals per person.   Though as a percentage of the population? Spain, Germany, Poland, France, Great Britain.  Take your pick.  The ratio is about the same, and your odds of making the team and winning a medal are not significantly different. If you’re seeking gold, Germany is also a solid consideration.  They rank second all time with 581 gold medals.

 

If you’re a swimmer, Germany is a country to give some thought to.  The country performed well at this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, finishing seventh amongst all countries competing in terms of total medals.  The German delegation was reasonably large at 19 swimmers, ten men and nine women.

 

A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 11.3%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 50.8%. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 25th best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 25th best in the world.  This should put Germany near the top of your list if healthcare is a consideration for where to go to launch your disability sporting career.

 

On the employment front, when not competing in sport, it may be a bit of a struggle. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization puts the employment rate of people with disabilities at 46.1%.  Supporting your sporting endeavors through work may be problematic.

 

 Great Britain

If you’re looking for a Paralympic medal, chances are Great Britain would be a good country to consider.  They rank second all time in terms of total number of Paralympic medals.  That’s 0.000026 medals per person.    Though as a percentage of the population? Spain, Germany, Poland, France, Great Britain.  Take your pick.  The ratio is about the same, and your odds of making the team and winning a medal are not significantly different. If a gold medal is what you want, Great Britain might be a solid choice as they have 530 all time, ranking third amongst all countries.

 

If you’re male, have a vision impairment and you’re the next best thing in football, you might have the potential to take the team to the top.  The team has competed at the Paralympic Games, but has yet to medal.

 

If you’re a swimmer, Great Britain is a country to give some thought to.  The country recently cleaned up at this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, finishing third amongst all countries competing in terms of total medals. The British delegation was reasonably large at 29 swimmers, sixteen men and thirteen women. Three swimmers from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport.

 

A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might also make the country more desirable as the country is one of the global leaders in terms Physiotherapists per 10 000 population. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.4%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 56.8%. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 18th best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 18th best in the world.  While the locals might claim, this should put Great Britain near the top of people’s lists if healthcare is a consideration.

 

On the employment front, when not competing in sport, it may be a bit of a struggle. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization puts the employment rate of people with disabilities at 38.9%.  Supporting your sporting endeavors through work may be problematic.

 

 Iran

Iran isn’t necessarily the country to go to if you’re indiscriminate in your Paralympic medal choices.  The country ranks thirty-third amongst all countries with 113 total medals.  That’s 0.0000014 medals per person.   This isn’t a country to go to insure success, because they have a large population who just are not winning medals at a comparable rate to their population size.

 

If you’re male, have a vision impairment and you’re the next best thing in football, you might have the potential to take the team to the top.  The team has competed at the Paralympic Games, but has yet to medal.  They also missed out at this year’s World Championships, despite medalling at the 2014 Para Asian Games.

 

If you’re male and a sitting volleyball player, Iran is one of the countries you want to be in.  The country has won all but two Paralympic gold medals since 1988. On a money front, sitting volleyball is a bit cheaper than other sports to get involved with.  There is no expensive equipment.  You don’t need a wheelchair or a prosthetic.   For that matter, you don’t even need a pool.  The game is played pretty much globally, including in places where other more expensive team sports are not yet there.  The classification system is pretty wide open here, so people with minimal disabilities and full disabilities are able to play.  Still if you’re a high needs athlete, Iran and its sitting volleyball team may not be the best place for you.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 6.7%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 88.0%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 93rd best in the world.  This should move Iran way down the list for people if health care is a consideration in your sporting career.

 

 Mozambique

Mozambique has only participated in one Paralympic Games, and they didn’t medal. Sport wise, your best chance is athletics.  It is sport played by the country’s two Paralympic competitors. If you have a visual impairment, this country may not be your worst option.  While Mozambique Sports Federation for Persons with Disabilities is a newly recognized IBSA affiliate, the country’s two Paralympic competitors were both vision impaired.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 6.4%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 9.0%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 184th best in the world.  The really low ranking should make you consider Brazil or Iran first before heading to Mozambique.

 

 New Zealand

New Zealand is a relatively big power for a country with a small population.  They rank twenty-eighth all time in total Paralympic medals with 175.  That’s 0.000039 medals per person. Amongst the countries listed here, New Zealand is one of your best bets. They really pull their weight in terms of number of medals per person, with only Finland, Sweden and Australia outperforming them on this metric.

 

Higher need athletes have decent opportunities here.  Boccia, shooting and wheelchair rugby all are reasonably active both on the club level and the international level. If you’re into wheelchair rugby, the country has a long and storied history playing the game.  The team consistently ranks in the top fifteen.  If you’re female, there is precedent for making the national team.  New Zealand swimmers are pretty good and more than pull their weight given the country’s population.  They’ve won medals at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and at this year’s Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships.

 

 

It is possible to launch your wheelchair tennis career from Australia or New Zealand, but you’ll struggle on the financial front. You’ll need to get points and climb the international ranks to earn a qualifying berth to the Paralympic Games.  The sport isn’t part of the development scheme in either country, so you’ll have limited government financial sport though some will be available by virtue of being an EAD.  Most competitions are played in Europe and North America.   And unlike other sports, the visibility inside the country is often times less than swimming, athletics,  or wheelchair rugby.

 

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 10.3%.  The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 63.2%. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might also make the country more desirable as the country is one of the global leaders in terms Physiotherapists per 10 000 population. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 41st best in the world.  If you’re looking for a non-European country to head to because health insurance is a consideration, this should put New Zealand at the top of your list.

 

 Pakistan

If you’re looking for Paralympic glory in terms of Paralympic medals, Pakistan is probably not the country for you.   With one medal in four Paralympic Games appearances, they rank around 102nd in the world.  Your odds of getting on the team and winning a medal based on past performance are worse than that of China.  It’s a 1 in 179,200,000 shot.

 

If you’re looking for shooting, South Africa does not appear to have much depth in the sport.  The country didn’t send anyone to the world championships held earlier this year. If you’re potentially seeking glory through non-Paralympic sport, Pakistan may actually have a good option for you if you’re male and have a vision impairment: Blind cricket.  The top players get subsidies to play.  They have a winning tradition and get their share of media attnetion.

 

Making the country  unattractive, a 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might be problematic as the country has one of the worst ratios in terms Physiotherapists per 10,000 population. The country also ranks amongst the worst for occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 3.1%.  The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 90.2%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 122nd best in the world.  It isn’t your worst bet of all the countries on the list, but its sub 100 rankings should give you pause before giving it consideration.

 

The country has a great deal of security issues that might make training and competing difficult.  Cultural, religious and gender taboos on top of  the political issues should also move Pakistan down your list.

 

 Poland

Poland has 670 Paralympic medals all time, which puts them ninth in the world for total medals.  That’s 0.000017 medals per person.   Though as a percentage of the population? Spain, Germany, Poland, France, Great Britain.  Take your pick.  The ratio is about the same, and your odds of making the team and winning a medal are not significantly different.

 

The country didn’t do so well at this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, finishing eleventh in total medal count. The Polish delegation was reasonably large at 17 swimmers, but they had a huge gender imbalance with 12 male swimmers and 5 female swimmers.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 6.7%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 76.2%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 50th best in the world.  If health care is an important consideration for your future Paralympic glory, Poland is meh.  It isn’t the best and it isn’t the worst.  It is one of those countries where other considerations should probably matter more. On the employment front, when not competing in sport, it may be a bit of a struggle. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization puts the employment rate of people with disabilities at 20.8%.  Supporting your sporting endeavors through work may be problematic.

 

 

 

 South Africa

If you’re looking for a country from Africa from which to launch yourself into Paralympic glory, South Africa may not be a bad choice.  With 280 total medals all time at the Paralympic Games, they are ranked twenty-second in the world and are the top African team in total medals.  They have 0.0000054 medals per person.   This isn’t a country to go to insure success, because they have a large population who just are not winning medals at a comparable rate to their population size.

 

If swimming is your sport, the country has a really good history with the sport. A swimmer from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport. If you’re looking for shooting, South Africa does not appear to have much depth in the sport.  The country only had one competitor at the world championships held earlier this year.

 

Making the country a bit unattractive, a 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might be problematic as the country has one of the worst ratios in terms Physiotherapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 8.8%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 13.8%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 175th best in the world.  South Africa is a place where you may want to avoid if health care is a serious consideration unless you have serious money.

 

 Spain

Spain ranks eighth all time in total number of Paralympic medals won, with 682. That’s 0.0000144 medal per person in the country. If you’re country shopping for a medal, this is a country where you might give serious consideration.  Though as a percentage of the population? Spain, Germany, Poland, France, Great Britain.  Take your pick.  The ratio is about the same, and your odds of making the team and winning a medal are not significantly different.

 

Spain has a long and successful history of vision impaired sports.  ONCE is huge, and provides a lot of support for athletes.  This includes sponsorship, training and employment. Better yet for Spain, the law was recently changed so guides for vision impaired athletes will now be able to be classified as elite athletes.  This means they get access to all sorts of benefits.  This would make it much easier to attract a guide if your sport requires one.

 

If you’re football crazy and male with a vision impairment, then Brazil might be worth considering.  The country has won Paralympic medals in the sport.  The country also has a thriving domestic competition, with teams able to attract sponsors including La Liga affiliated teams.  They may not have the money to keep their best players, as one of Spain’s best players ever took a contract to play for an Italian side. If you’re a swimmer, Spain is a country to give some thought to.  The country recently cleaned up at this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, finishing fourth amongst all countries competing in terms of total medals. The Spanish delegation was reasonably large at 23 swimmers, thirteen men and ten women. On the money front, some athletes have worked very hard and have been able to secure to sponsorships in a variety of sports including para-alpine skiing and athletics.

 

Making the country a bit unattractive, a 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might be problematic as the country has one of the worst ratios in terms occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.6%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 76.6%. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 7th best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 7th best in the world.  While some things are bad, the quality of care and the fact that you won’t need to pay as much out of pocket as other countries should put Spain near the top of your list if health care is a consideration.

 

 Sweden

If you want a Paralympic medal, Sweden is worth considering.  They’re ranked tenth all time for total medals with 663.  That’s 0.0000696 medals per person. Amongst the countries listed here, Sweden is actually your second best bet.   They get a large number of medals considering their small population size.

 

A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment here may make the country a more attractive one to go to from a health viewpoint.   It ranks amongst the top in world in terms of Occupational therapists per 10,000 population. According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 9.6%.  The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 88.1%. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 23rd best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 23rd best in the world.  This should put Sweden in the middle of the pack amongst the top countries you’re considering,  because lots of good but other places are a bit better.

 

 

 Ukraine 

Being relatively new and having only competed at 10 total Paralympic Games, the Ukraine is twentieth in the world in total Paralympic medals with 347.  That’s 0.0000076 medals per person.   This isn’t a country to go to insure success, because they have a large population who just are not winning medals at a comparable rate to their population size.

 

If you’re a swimmer, Ukraine is a country to give some thought to.  The country recently cleaned up at this year’s IPC European Swimming Championships, finishing first amongst all countries competing in terms of total medals. The Ukrainian delegation was huge at 51 swimmers, 29 men and 22 women.  The gender imbalance is almost offset by the sheer size of the team. Are you a female wheelchair fencer? The Ukrainian women are currently ranked second in the world in the foil and fifth in the épée.  Their program is pretty good.  The country picked up a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, one of only ten countries to medal in the sport at those Games.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 7.6%. The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 93.8%. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 79th best in the world.  There are better places in Europe to go if health care is a consideration and all other factors are equal. One of the major downsides to the Ukraine is the political instability in the country.  It might not be the time to swap citizenship.

 

 United States

If you want Paralympic glory, the United States could be one of the first countries you consider.  The country leads all countries in terms of total number of Paralympic medals with 2352.  That’s 0.0000074 medals per person.   This isn’t a country to go to insure success, because they have a large population who just are not winning medals at a comparable rate to their population size. If you’re seeking gold, then the United States is another great country to consider as it leads all time in number of golds with 794.

 

If swimming is your sport, the country has a really good history with the sport. Three swimmers from the country have won more than ten Paralympic medals each in the sport.

 

On the money front, the United States may not be the best option if you’re not capable of getting independent sponsorship or you’re not a veteran.  Money is often an issue as the government does not provide direct subsidies for elite athletes like some countries provide their athletes.  This inability to easily access funds means that some potential elite athletes who could be the next best thing struggle, and get passed over for veterans who get more support, Veteran based grants and programs specifically targeting them, etc.

 

Which isn’t to say sponsorship isn’t out of reach.  There are a number of USA athletes who have sponsorships and who have gone on to get greater recognition and opportunities, including one who competed on Dancing with the Stars.

 

The United States also has a number of athletic scholarships open to people with disabilities in a variety of sports including swimming, wheelchair basketball, golf, athletics and wheelchair tennis.  These aren’t reserved solely for USA nationals, but they can give you time to grow and compete.  They also solely available at universities for people with disabilities.  Some are at elite American universities like the University of Alabama, and the University of Illinois, Urabana-Champaign.

 

On the employment front, when not competing in sport, it may be a bit of a struggle. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization puts the employment rate of people with disabilities at 38.1%.  Supporting your sporting endeavors through work may be problematic.

 

According to World Bank, health expenditures as a percentage of GDP is 17.9%, more than 2% higher than the next best nations that aren’t known for their sterling quality of health care: The Marshall Islands, Liberia, Tuvalu, and Sierre Leone.  The percentage of the average out of pocket outlay for private health expenditures 20.7%. A 2011 report by the World Health Organization suggests that getting treatment might also make the country more desirable as the country is one of the global leaders in terms Physiotherapists per 10,000 population. In June 2012, Business Insider ranked the country as having the 37th best health system in the world. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the country’s health care system as the 37th best in the world.  The gist of it is the United States should not be at the top of your list of places to go if health care is an issue, a fact some disability sport athletes have sadly discovered after getting injured while competing there. Still, if there are other big pluses, you might find this variable worth ignoring.

 

 

 

 

Laura Hale
About Laura Hale (2533 Articles)
Laura Hale is a sport journalist, specializing in Paralympic and disability sport news. Prior to helping found ParaSport-News, she spent two and a half years working as a journalist on Wikinews, a citizen journalism site. As a journalist, she has covered the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, and a number of other sporting events. She has additional experience with Paralympic sport having worked as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian and Spanish Paralympic Committees.

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