Rio Olympics

Rio 2016 will be the people's Games says IPC chief Craven

Members of the Northern Ireland U19 Wheelchair team pictured last night at Girdwood Community Hub for the Disability Sport NI launch ahead of the Paralympic Games 2016. Picture: Hugh Russell
Matt McGeehan in Rio

INTERNATIONAL Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven believes Rio 2016 will be the “People’s Games” after a fraught build-up.

The Rio 2016 organising committee admitted as the Olympics came to a close last month that only 12 per cent of the 2.5 million Paralympics tickets had been sold, while Craven admitted it was the worst build-up to a modern Games.

However, it seems Rio has turned things around. Ticket sales are nearing the 1.7m mark, behind only London. The London 2012 Paralympics saw 2.7m tickets sold.

And the largest athlete contingent at a Paralympic Games – the 4336 athletes from 159 nations, plus two refugees in an independent team –are expected to produce the greatest Paralympic performances, Craven said.

“Two weeks ago I said we faced unprecedented circumstances and since then we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of team work – and that is the truth – in order to put on the best Games we possibly can here,” said Craven, speaking ahead of today’s opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium.

“What we’ve seen from the massive increase in ticket sales is the Carioca and the Brasileiros are ready for these Games. These are going to be the People’s Games. You cannot come to a more passionate nation for sport, but you’ve got to connect with those hearts. If you do that, you connect with the minds.

“It’s the transformation of perceptions that’s important. That only happens when people have positive experiences.

“We are proud we are the most important international sporting event in the world that can effect positive social change.”

Travel grants to the Paralympic participating nations were belatedly paid after a legal wrangle with federal government.

Craven was critical of the Rio 2016 organisers for failing to alert the IPC to the dire circumstances which resulted from the Paralympic budget being used as contingency for the Olympics.

Asked about lessons from the affair, he said: “Communication is number one. Don’t let us know about it six or seven weeks before the start of the Paralympic Games. Ridiculous.”

There were other travails for Craven and the IPC.

Russia, second on the medal table at London 2012 behind China and ahead of Great Britain, are absent following a report into state-sponsored doping.

Unlike at the Olympics, where Russian athletes were admitted by individual sporting federations –their track and field athletes were banned – the IPC made a wholesale decision not to permit them entry to the XV Paralympics.

Russia had 267 athlete slots and the IPC has redistributed 240 of them to other nations. Craven said: “The Russian state sponsorship of doping was something we just couldn’t tolerate.

“This had cataclysmic potential against the good nature and the manner in which public opinion view para-sport and para-athletes.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency received plenty of criticism during the Olympics which Craven felt was unwarranted.

“I thought that amazing,” he added. “Let’s not forget who was at fault here. It wasn’t WADA, it was Russia”

The non-attendance of IOC president Thomas Bach at Wednesday night’s opening ceremony was interpreted by some as a snub related to the IPC’s Russia decision.

Craven was informed two days ago by Bach that he would be absent to attend the state mourning of his friend and former West Germany president Walter Scheel.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” said Craven, adding that Bach’s predecessor Jacques Rogge missed the 2010 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony.

The Paralympics will feature 1,500 targeted anti-doping tests – the most ever. But Craven played down the prospect of cheating by doping, intentional misrepresentation of classification – where an athlete tries to gain entry into the wrong class – or boosting.

“The amount of cheating that goes on is very, very limited in Paralympic sport,” Craven said.

“What I can assure you is every athlete is correctly classified as far as we’re aware.”

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