The Rt Hon. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand officially opened the 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships on Friday (21 January) in a Ceremony held in Christchurch.
Taking place at midday more than 1,000 athletes from over 70 countries paraded through the streets of Christchurch as part of the Ceremony from Worcester Street Bridge to Cathedral Square in the city centre.
Upon arrival at Cathedral Square the athletes were greeted by a Powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome, before the New Zealand national flag was raised and the national anthem performed.
Speaking to the assembled crowd IPC Vice President Greg Hartung stressed the importance of these Championships to the athletes.
Greg Hartung said: “For some athletes, this will be their first time major international competition. For others, it will be the pinnacle of their career. However, for most it will be a giant step towards the London 2012 Paralympic Games which open in just over 18 months.
“This is the last major gathering of international athletes before the London Games and we can expect to see some stunning performances over the next nine days as athletes set the bar for what we can expect in 2012.”
Hartung also praised the people of Christchurch who endured a major 7.0 magnitude earthquake in early September 2010 and have experienced a number of aftershocks since.
Greg Hartung said: “I am mindful that this is the first major event to be hosted by this city since September’s earthquake. It is a testament to the spirit, the determination and resilience of the people of Christchurch that this event is going ahead as planned.
“To the people of New Zealand and particularly of Christchurch I extend the thanks, appreciation and admiration of the whole Paralympic Movement.”
Also speaking at the Official Opening was Fiona Pickering, Chair of the Local Organizing Committee and Secretary General of Paralympics New Zealand who talked about the importance of holding the World Championships outside of Europe for the first time.
Fiona Pickering said: “This is the biggest Paralympic sporting event to be held in Oceania since the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.
“For the growth of the Paralympic Movement it is vital that prestigious events such as these Championships are held in different locations around the world and and we are delighted that they are to be held here in Christchurch.
“One in seven people in New Zealand’s population of four million has some sort of impairment and an event of this scale will help change perceptions of what can be achieved by people with an impairment.”
Pickering also thanked the IPC for awarding the Championships to New Zealand.
“These World Championships will act as a springboard to the development of Paralympic Sport in this country and it is hoped that we will reap the benefits for years to come.”
The first events of the 2011 IPC Athletics will take place at QEII Stadium on Saturday 22 January from 09.00 and will run until Saturday 30 January.
Tickets for the event can be purchased from www.ticketsdirect.co.nz or purchased on the day from the stadium ticket office for just $10 per adult.
In addition to the live coverage from Christchurch, Paralympic sports fans can also get the latest news, gossip and pictures from the World Championships via the IPC’s official Facebook page www.facebook.com/ParalympicSportTV and Twitter page www.twitter.com/paralympic