"At the IPC we are a relatively small but united organisation. It’s in our Paralympic DNA to see obstacles as an opportunity to do things differently and that’s what we are doing here. We are problem solvers by nature and fight for what we believe in."
Good afternoon everybody,
Today I want to provide an update on preparations for the Rio 2016 Paralympics, tell you about my enthusiasm for what the Games will deliver and address some of the major challenges that we are currently facing.
First of all, the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place here as planned with all 22 sports.
They will be the People’s Games with tickets available that are accessible and affordable to all Brazilian people and I am fully confident they will be the best Games ever in terms of athletic performance.
You only have to look at some of the achievements from Para athletes over the last two years to realise that we will witness some truly spectacular sport. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, the sport really will redefine the boundaries of possibility for those who see the Games.
In athletics you will see the likes of German long jumper Markus Rehm in action. In winning the world title last year Markus, who is a single leg amputee, leapt 8.40m, a distance that would have won him gold at the last three Olympic Games, including here in Rio.
In powerlifting, the world’s strongest Paralympian Iran’s Siamand Rahman will aim to lift in excess of 300kg for the first time, whilst Great Britain’s Dame Sarah Storey, who just missed out on the UCI hour record earlier this year, will look to add to her 11 Paralympic golds.
One stand-out feature of the Olympics has been how the home crowd have reacted to medal success. This fills me full of excitement for the Paralympics where the Brazilian team is looking for a top-five finish in the medals table for the first time. They aim to win more than the 21 golds they picked up at London 2012.
The Olympics have shown that Brazilian crowds are extremely passionate for sport and I hope the passionate support of the Carioca will spur on all athletes of all nations to even better things.
I also want to make a special mention about the passion of the Rio 2016 staff. In light of the circumstances that are way beyond their control, they have shown a great desire to do the best job possible, as have the amazing volunteers. There may not be as many of them as we expected, but those who are here have done an outstanding job, and I am sure they will do the same for the Paralympics.
In terms of what the Games will deliver, I believe the performances of the Para athletes will act as a catalyst for social change. The Paralympics have a strong track record for changing global attitudes towards people with an impairment, and are now widely regarded as the world’s number one sporting event for driving positive societal change and social inclusion.
The opportunity we have here to make Rio, Brazil, Latin America and the world a more equitable place for all does not come around very often, so we have to grab it with both hands.
With a record number of broadcasters showing the Games to more than 100 countries - including USA for the first time with NBC - these Games will have more impact than ever before.
Four years ago, the Paralympics led to one in three British people changing their attitudes towards people with an impairment – that’s 20 million people! You really cannot put a value on such social inclusion.
I’d now like to cover some of the sizeable financial and organisational challenges we currently face here in Rio.
Since becoming aware of the full scale of the problem, we have focussed all of our efforts on finding solutions to the problems.
At the IPC we are a relatively small but united organisation. It’s in our Paralympic DNA to see obstacles as an opportunity to do things differently and that’s what we are doing here. We are problem solvers by nature and fight for what we believe in.
We find solutions by working with trusted partners, and I have to say the support of Rio’s Mayor Paes, who has committed to BRL 150 million to the Games, has been remarkable.
Mayor Paes has always been a huge advocate of the Paralympics and the seismic impact they can have in terms of driving social inclusion. He saw what the London 2012 Paralympics did for the British capital, and now he wants that same transformation to take place here in Rio.
Yesterday, Thursday, we had a meeting with the interim President Michel Temer who confirmed his attendance at the Opening Ceremony on 7 September. I think his actions in the meeting speak volumes of his commitment to the Paralympics. Not only did we hold productive talks, but he picked up the phone on a number of occasions to get things moving which gave us huge confidence.
A number of state run companies have since signed contracts to sponsor the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, bringing in much needed money to the Organising Committee, whilst the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Defence have informed us that the security forces currently in place for the Olympics will remain for the Paralympics.
At this point, I’d just like to pay tribute to our Vice President Andrew Parsons who has played an instrumental role in his liaison with Federal Government, the Mayor and various other bodies. Without his support and contacts, I am sure that we would not have made the progress that we have as of today.
Now that revenue streams have been established, we hope the first 60 per cent instalment of the National Paralympic Committee support grants will be paid by the Organising Committee. These grants were a Rio 2016 bid commitment for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and should have been paid by the Organising Committee to all 165 participating countries at the end of July.
Although most of the bigger teams booked their flight tickets weeks ago, some of the smaller nations cannot afford to book their travel until these grants are received.
Currently we have around 10 countries who, even if the grants are paid, may struggle to cover the cost of their travel to the Games. The IPC is working with them to find solutions and ensure their participation here in Rio.
We want full participation here with athletes set to arrive from 31 August onwards. We want all eligible countries to send their athletes to the Games. It’s what the athletes deserve and it is what the athletes want after years of training and dedication.
Although we are making progress, the extra revenues will not fully plug the Rio 2016 deficit.
Therefore, we are working with the Organising Committee on a number of measures that will provide cost savings. These cuts are on top of the ones we, together with the IOC, have already made in the last 12 months and are likely to impact nearly every stakeholder attending the Games.
We are working desperately hard to protect athlete services, especially within the field of play. They have dedicated their lives to reaching these Games and we will do our upmost to try and maintain the service levels and scope that they expect at a Paralympic Games. Sadly, with the cuts that our Chief Executive Xavier Gonzalez will provide you with shortly, the overall athlete experience will be affected.
Never before in the 56 year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this. Clearly Brazil is in a far different position now to the one that it was in October 2009 when it won the right to stage the Games. The current economic and political climate has made preparations extremely challenging, especially for the Rio 2016 Organising Committee who we have partnered with for the last seven years.
This situation is difficult for everyone involved and, on top of bringing in extra revenues and making cuts, we need to sell more tickets.
We appreciate that up until now, the Organising Committee’s priority has been to sell the outstanding Olympic tickets which produce greater revenues. However, we now hope a new promotional campaign will engage the Brazilian public and lead to strong crowds for all sports.
At this point it is difficult for us to expect the full venues that we saw in Beijing or London, or expect to see in Tokyo in four years’ time. However, we hope the passion of the Brazilian people and their desire to support and see Brazilian athletes win medals will see them turn our en-masse. People power could really determine the outcome of these Games.
To finish, I’d just like to say we are now at a point where we are working every hour possible to bring many moving pieces together, pieces that are needed to deliver a great Games. The more resources we can benefit from, the better the Games will be which brings me to my favourite quote which I think can be adapted for here in Rio.
Captain of the Australian wheelchair basketball team at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, Donna Ritchie said: “Paralympians don’t have the time to worry about what doesn’t work, they just maximise what does.”
And I can assure you that’s what we are doing here. We are trying not to worry about what we don’t have, we are just maximising everything we do have and can have to put on the best Games we can for the athletes. Despite the problems we face, we still believe that the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will inspire and excite the world and go some way to making for a more inclusive society for all.