Happy new year to you all and good news…… the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are next year!
Before I look to what lies ahead, I want to reflect on 2014, a fantastic year which was topped and tailed by the best Paralympic Winter Games ever in Sochi, Russia, and a highly successful IPC Membership Gathering and 25th anniversary celebration event in Berlin, Germany.
The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games broke all ticket and TV viewing records and the blueprint that was created in terms of accessibility in Sochi is now being rolled out across Russia.
The performances of the para-athletes in Sochi were mesmerising; they continue to astound not just myself with what they can achieve but millions of others around the world.
The Gala Dinner to celebrate the IPC’s 25th anniversary was the perfect occasion for us all to reflect on our achievements so far. To see so many world leaders congratulating the IPC was testament to all the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the Paralympic Movement for the last quarter of a century.
The Gathering provided a great opportunity for IPC members to come together and have their say on the key issues affecting the Paralympic Movement. There was a lot of fruitful and constructive dialogue and I know many of the points raised are covered in the IPC Strategic Plan 2015-2018 that will be published in the first quarter of 2015.
Alongside the publication of the IPC Strategic Plan 2015-2018, the Agitos Foundation will also publish its strategic plan outlining how it will help continue to develop para-sport globally at all levels.
Fundamental to the Paralympic Movement’s growth is the IPC’s relationships with the IOC. I was personally very touched to hear IOC President Thomas Bach highlight the excellent co-operation between our two organisations at the start of December’s IOC Extraordinary Session for Agenda 2020 in Monaco and I am sure our partnership will grow from strength-to-strength in the years to come.
Possibly the busiest year yet!
Although 2015 is not a Paralympic year, it will be one of the busiest to date, with multiple Worlds and regional Championships taking place, many of which will be qualifiers for Rio 2016.
Following on from the tremendous success of Sochi 2014, each of the Paralympic winter sports will stage a World Championships in the first five months of 2015, starting with the IPC Biathlon and Cross Country Skiing World Championships in Cable, USA - which get underway on 23 January - and finishing with the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool in Buffalo, USA, which conclude on 2 May.
The summer and autumn months will see many major events take place in summer sports including July’s IPC Swimming World Championships in Glasgow, Great Britain, and October’s IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Arguably the biggest and most important sporting event of the year however is August’s Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games which will feature 1,600 athletes from 28 countries competing in 15 sports.
It is vital that Toronto 2015 is a success and that we leverage the event to generate greater awareness of the Paralympic Movement in the Americas ahead of Rio 2016.
Away from the sporting events, the seventh VISTA conference will take place in Girona, Spain, in October and the theme will be "Securing the future for young para-athletes". Before the year ends, the IPC General Assembly will also be staged and an announcement on timings and its location will be made soon.
1 January 2015 marks exactly 615 days to go until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and I can assure you that my excitement is growing by the day!
The Organising Committee has done a great deal of work in 2014, most recently highlighted by the successful launch of the Paralympic mascot Tom. I’m also delighted Rio 2016 has formed a Paralympic Integration Committee which is led by IPC Vice President Andrew Parsons.
The last full year before the Paralympics is always vital and, in 2015, Rio will be staging a number of test events, as well as the Chef de Mission seminar, as their preparations gear up for the final push.
People are a little more relaxed now they are seeing the venues grow in size each day and I am fully confident everything will be ready for our Games and that Rio will deliver a truly spectacular event. The atmosphere in Rio will be amazing; the Carioca like to party, and I hope Rio 2016 is one big party for the spectators and for the athletes (once they have competed of course!).
Although memories from Sochi 2014 are still fresh, planning and preparations for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games are ongoing and the Organising Committee must continue to work hard raising awareness of the Games, the Movement and the para-athletes who will compete.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics may still be more than five years away, but I get a sense even now that they will be the Games that propel the Paralympic Movement to new unimaginable heights.
The commitment and the enthusiasm that the Organising Committee has shown so far is infectious and I’m delighted that the Tokyo 2020 Executive Board features a number of people involved in Paralympic sport. The Organising Committee’s enthusiasm is also rubbing off on others, especially the business community, and in October I was thrilled that the IPC announced a long-term partnership with Panasonic.
In January, the IPC Governing Board will meet in Abu Dhabi, UAE, to finalise the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic sports programme and, with eight sports vying for a maximum of seven spots, we have a very difficult decision to make.
On 31 July 2015 I will be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the 128th IOC Session to decide the host city for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Beijing, China, and Almaty, Kazakhstan, have visited the IPC in the last six months and I hope the feedback we have given both has further improved the Paralympic elements of their bids.
Finally, I thank you all for your continued efforts and support. You are the Movement and the reason where we are today. I wish you all a happy New Year.
Sir Philip Craven MBE