Paralympic glory spurs on Rio plans

 The athletes, some with well-deserved post-Paralympic closing ceremony hang­overs, have boarded their aeroplanes, the Games-makers have hung up their uniforms and some of the venues that witnessed the exhilaration of London 2012 are waiting to be dismantled.

But as London prepares to return to its normal irascibility – so conspicuously missing during the past six weeks – there is one group of people for whom the work has only just begun. The organisers of Rio 2016 have recognised that they face an uphill task to match the success of the London 2012 Paralympics,  widely seen as a game-changing event for disabled sport after record attendance, coverage and worldwide interest.

But, not to be outdone, the carnival city is promising an event just as spectacular and inclusive in four years' time.

"We go home back to Rio soon with renewed energy to bring Brazilian joyfulness to the Games and transform the city and the country," said Leonardo Gryner, head of Rio 2016. "We will ensure the great work here in London to promote inclusivity, accessibility and the great sport of the Paralympic Games will continue in Rio.

"London has done it right for both Games. We have to build upon your success because this was very well delivered. We have been learning with you for a long time – our teams have been talking for over a year and already we have learnt a lot."

Equal consideration
He said the Paralympics in Brazil, as in London, had been given equal consideration in the planning of the biggest sporting event ever to be held in the country.

"What will be different in Rio is our way of doing things. We will add our cultural heritage and that will be our contribution to the movement."

Brazil has some experience in hosting sporting events for the disabled – as a training ground for its 2016 bid it held the Parapan American Games in 2007.

But transforming Rio into a city that could host thousands of disabled athletes and spectators would be a challenge, Gryner said. "We have a lot more to do than London in terms of access for disabled people."

Laws are being put in place to ensure accessibility in buildings and work is being done to ensure that Rio's entire transport system will be accessible. As in London, the athletes' village and all venues have been designed with both Games in mind.

"It is one thing to have accessibility; the next step is to make accessibility normal. That's a new thing for us, but we are working very hard to achieve it," Gryner said.

An awareness campaign to boost the popularity of the Games will be launched before the Paralympics, but athletes such as Daniel Dias, who became Brazil's Para-athlete with the most medals in the 2012 Games and is referred to as the Brazilian Michael Phelps, and Alan Oliveira, who denied Oscar Pistorius the gold in the T44 200m final, were doing more for the movement than any amount of government funding, said Andrew Parsons, president of the Brazilian Paralympic committee.

"Every kid in Brazil doesn't have to dream about being Ronaldo or Pele. They can dream about being Daniel Dias or [four-time Paralympic sprinter] Adria Santos. This is very important," he said.

Social inclusion
"We're in a country where we still have a long way to go in terms of social inclusion for people with disability. Maybe by 2016 we will not have a perfect country for persons with a disability, but it [the Paralympics] is a big push."

The government had doubled the funding available for Paralympic sports from 77-million Brazilian reals (about R319-million) to 165-million in recognition of the importance of home glory to a successful Games, Parsons said.

The Paralympic closing ceremony gave an eight-minute taster of what Rio might hold, but it was enough to whet the appetite and create a mass advance search for flights to Brazil.

Rio, which organisers have dubbed the "Games of passion and transformation", will add its own flavour to the Paralympics, but there would be no reversal of the gains made in London, said Gryner.

"There will be no backward step in terms of the Paralympics. We will continue to raise the profile." – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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