There was controversy during the preparation for these Games over the inclusion of a team from South Africa. In the Netherlands, public and official opinion was against the inclusion of the South African team and pressure came from a number of sports organisations against the Organising Committee. The Dutch Parliament was negative as well. Eventually, the parliament decided against allowing the participation of the South African team. Although "much of the publicity relating to the South African participation had been negative, it did succeed in bringing the disabled sports movement into the minds of many people who would not have otherwise considered the subject at all. Dutch organisers also increased visibility through their fundraising ... building a fund that would hold a surplus years after the games. This would naturally find its expression in the International Fund Sport Disabled, supporting the future of the paralympic movement in the 1980s."
Forty-three delegations took part in the Arnhem Paralympics.
Prior to the Games, the States-General (national Parliament) of the Netherlands, as host country, adopted a motion declaring South Africa's participation "undesirable", due to its policy of apartheid. The 1980 Games thus marked South Africa's first absence from the Summer Paralympics since it had joined the movement in 1964, and it remained absent until 1992. The United States and other countries boycotted the Olympics because of the Soviet war in Afghanistan but they did not boycott the Paralympics. The Netherlands' decision thus corrected the anomaly whereby South Africa had been banned from the Olympic movement since 1960, while still being authorised to take part in the Paralympic Games.