“Never before in the 56-year history of the Games have we faced circumstances like this” – Sir Philip Craven, President, International Paralympic Committee (“IPC”)
The Paralympic games start tomorrow in Rio but have the IPC been able to fully capitalise on the success of the London games four years earlier?
When London was announced as the Olympics host city in 2012 the Paralympics was an integral part of its bid. Such was the ambition of the Paralympics organisers that every Olympic flag and poster in London, of which there were thousands, was changed between the two games from the Olympic to the Paralympic logo. This wholehearted promotion of the Paralympics led to record ticket sales of 2.76 million and a full house at the Olympic stadium with a further TV audience of 6.3 million watching Jonnie Peacock’s 100m triumph amongst other spectacular highlights.
News from Brazil has not been so positive.
First there was the controversy surrounding the blanket ban handed to the Russian Paralympic Committee and its athletes concerning allegations of state sponsored doping. Next there was news that the Brazilian Courts had blocked the payment of £66 million worth of travel grants and funding for teams as the Brazilian Government and the City of Rio simply could not afford it – the injunction was subsequently overturned to allow the games to go ahead. Finally, news came of disappointing ticket sales that only reached 1.5 million out of a total of 2.5 million on Sunday, and this a result of a huge slash in ticket pricing, with the danger of many more empty venues as seen during the recent Olympics.
Brazil themselves have a strong Paralympic legacy, winning 43 medals in London (7th overall) with perhaps the highlight being Alan Oliviera’s surprise win over Oscar Pistorius in the T44 200m, Pistorius’s reaction to which would see the South African’s reputation falter in the eyes of the public for the first, but certainly not the last, time.
In the circumstances it must be hoped that Rio can repeat the success of the recent Olympics and allay these pre-game concerns.
The next two weeks promises much by way of drama including Tatyana McFadden’s attempts to win every event in wheelchair racing from the 100m to the marathon, Dame Sarah Storey’s bid to add to an already incredible 11 Paralympic gold medals and the spectacular and brutal wheelchair rugby competition.
The London games were instrumental in advancing attitudes to Paralympic sport to new levels, ensuring athletes and the Paralympics as a whole were no longer considered second-class. Rio must not drop this most precious of batons.