Following the successes of the last two summer editions of the Paralympic Games, Rio 2016 must show to the world that Beijing 2008 and London 2012 were not exceptions, but the norm.
Four years ago in London we sold 2.76 million tickets, making the Paralympics the world’s third biggest sporting event. Due to the desire of the British public to see the Games we could probably have sold many more, with a pass to see the Paralympics one of the summer’s hottest tickets. The demand to see the Games was also reflected in the TV figures; a cumulative 3.8 billion viewers watched London 2012 in 115 countries.
We must build on this momentum with Rio 2016 and aim to set new records in terms of spectator attendance, TV audiences, athletic performance and social legacy.
With two million tickets for Rio 2016 costing just 10 reais, we are confident that the late buying Brazilian public will turn out in force and throw their full support behind the Brazilian team and the other 170 plus competing countries.
In 2014, the Brazilian public suffered heartbreak when their national football side lost in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup but this September I think they will feel the opposite emotion. They will feel great pride and joy as Brazilian Paralympic athletes chase medals every single day in an effort to secure the country’s first ever top five finish in the medals table.
Even with six months to go, we know Rio 2016 will be the most widely broadcast Paralympics in history. More countries and territories than ever before have signed up to show the Games and we fully expect to reach a record cumulative TV audience of more than four billion people.
The growing interest in Paralympic sport over the last 20 years, in my view, is down to the ever-improving performances of para-athletes. The majority are now full-time and benefit from high performance training programmes on a par with their Olympic counterparts. This has resulted in an improvement in standards across all sports.
To give you one example, at the Atlanta 96 Paralympic Games the men’s 100m T44 for below knee leg amputees was won in a world record 11.36 seconds. At Rio 2016, the US world champion Richard Browne is fully confident he can lower his own world record of 10.61 seconds to below 10.5. To knock nearly one second off a 100m world record in 20 years is a staggering achievement and highlights that para-athletes are getting faster, stronger and more agile all the time.
Improved performances and greater media coverage have led the Paralympic Games to develop a strong track record for changing and challenging deep-rooted views in society regarding disability. Today, the Paralympic Games are the world’s number one sporting event for driving social inclusion, a position we want to cement further in Rio.
For many Brazilians, Rio 2016 will be their first experience of Paralympic sport and will be uncertain of what to expect. I can promise you a life-changing experience that will make you re-evaluate what you believe is humanly possible. You will see sport like never before and witness some of the best athletic performances ever delivered.
Over the next six months the excitement for the Paralympic Games will continue to build. The Olympic Park which is 95 per cent ready will transition from construction site to a giant theme park for sport. The newly erected venues will transform from empty shells to wonderful theatres where sporting memories that will be cherished forever will be created.
Upcoming test events in athletics, goalball and swimming will only add to that excitement as will announcements regarding the Opening Ceremony, Paralympic Torch Relay and competing athletes and teams.
It has been just over seven years since Rio was historically elected to host Latin America’s first Paralympic Games in Copenhagen, Denmark. A lot of hard work has been undertaken since that decision, but now Rio is almost ready to stage what will be an unmissable Games.
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all those who attend and a chance for the whole of South America to unite and celebrate a sporting festival that will change the continent forever.
I look forward to seeing you there.
Sir Philip Craven MBE