How not to organise a Paralympic Games (and what to do about it)

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Over recent days, weeks and months it has become very clear that the Rio Paralympics was in big trouble.  Financial problems with the games have led to frantic planning and significant cost cutting measures.  At one stage, whether the games would even take place was doubted.  All of this is a world away from London 2012, which captured the public imagination and was described as the best ever Paralympic Games.  Rio represents a great example of how not to organise a Paralympic Games in 5 main ways:

  1. Making it difficult or impossible for athletes to get there – At the risk of stating the obvious, without the athletes, there can be no games.  Difficulties and delays over the funding of travel monies have been well publicized over recent days and have now been resolved to some extent.  Nonetheless, it would appear that some athletes will not be able to attend due to these funding problems.   It is difficult to overstate how bad this is.  Imagine you have trained for years to get to the Paralympics, only to be denied your hard earned opportunity to compete for non-sporting reasons.  Would it happen with the Olympics? Unthinkable.  Why then has it been allowed to happen with the Paralympics?
  2. Don’t sell tickets – Paralympic ticket sales have been woeful, with just 12% sold according to figures quoted this week.  The lack of a crowd will damage the atmosphere of the games and images of empty seats beamed across the world will damage Paralympic sport in general.  This is not news though.  As early as March the poor ticket sales were highlighted. What has been done since then?  Has anything been done since then?  Whatever the measures taken, it is clear they have had little impact.
  3. (Allegedly!) divert money to the Olympics – It has been consistently reported that money has been ‘diverted’ from the Paralympics to the Olympics.  Why?  It is not widely known, but the IOC actually have much influence over the Paralympics in terms of the structural organisation of the games.  What responsibility have they taken and how are they helping to resolve the situation now?
  4. Reduce volunteers – Anyone who has attended any mass sporting event will understand the value and importance of volunteers to making good things happen.  In Rio, the number of volunteers will be reduced, as part of cost cutting measures.  This means that running the games will actually be made much more difficult.
  5. Make media coverage more difficult – the number of media centres will be reduced as part of cost cutting measures, making it more difficult for the games to be covered.  Media coverage is fundamental to the success of any games so this is particularly concerning.

Why the fuss?

Just as with the Olympics, the Paralympics is about more than just sport.  It plays a critical role in raising awareness of the capacity of disabled people to be extraordinary, and is arguably more important than the Olympics in terms of making disability more widely understood.  As such, the state of the Rio games represents such a missed opportunity on a number of levels.  This is especially the case after London, which was the coming of age for the Paralympics.  The contrasts could not be greater.

So what now?

With the games a matter of days away, there is little more than hope to be frank, that the games is a success in spite of all the above.

More positively, there are measures that can be taken in the short term and the long term.  In the short term we need to back our athletes more than ever before – so get behind them on social media and make sure you watch the games.  In Great Britain, there will be coverage on the BBC and Channel 4, so rest up after the Olympics, and get ready for some more medals and early mornings.  I promise you it will be worth staying up for!

In the long term, a few things need to happen in my view:

  • The ring fencing of the budget for the Paralympics
  • Greater independence for the IPC from the IOC
  • A wider examination of how the world can be helped to ‘get’ Paralympic Sport
  • Some serious questions need to be asked of how we have reached this point

As I said above…would it happen with the Olympics? Unthinkable.  Why then has it been allowed to happen with the Paralympics?  Some serious questions need to be asked.


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About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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