"In Russia there are over 13 million people with an impairment, yet many are isolated from society and face daily hurdles to participation in everyday life. Sochi 2014 has the potential to change all of that."
With this weekend marking 1,000 days to go until the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven has said he believes the event has the opportunity to change Russian society forever.
The Paralympic Winter Games take place in Sochi between 7-16 March 2014 with more than 550 athletes from nearly 50 countries set to take part, making them the biggest ever.
In preparation for the Games, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee is creating a barrier free environment in the host city ensuring that everything being constructed for the Games – transport, roads, sporting and public facilities – will be accessible, and act as a blueprint for the rest of Russia for future years.
The Organizing Committee is also implementing a Paralympic Awareness Programme in advance of the Games, which aims to promote the Paralympic values, and change how people with an impairment are perceived.
Sir Philip Craven, IPC President, said: “The Games in Sochi will be the 11th Winter Paralympics, and I believe they can have a similar impact in Russia as the Beijing 2008 Paralympics had on China.
“In Russia there are over 13 million people with an impairment, yet many are isolated from society and face daily hurdles to participation in everyday life.
“Sochi 2014 has the potential to change all of that. There is already some excellent work going on into creating barrier free environments which will make Russia more accessible to people with an impairment.
“One of the true tests of the Games, however, will not be infrastructure related. It will be whether Russia’s attitudes and perceptions of people with an impairment change for the better from what they currently are.
“If, after the Closing Ceremony of the Games on 16 March 2014, we can say that the 13 million Russians with an impairment are now part of a more inclusive barrier free society, then the Games will be hailed a huge success.
“So far the signs are extremely promising.”
To mark 1,000 days to go until the Games, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee has launched an innovative “Accessibility Map” project. The main objective is to help people with an impairment find easily accessible locations where they can engage in Paralympic sports. The map will also provide information about the elements that help to create barrier-free environments in local areas such as ramps, hand-rails and non-slip surfaces.
Sir Philip Craven added: “The Accessibility Map is the first time a map of all Paralympic sporting venues and barrier free facilities has been compiled in Russia.
“This is just one example of the legacy these Games can leave. Not only do we want to change attitudes and perceptions with these Games in Sochi, but we also want to get more people with an impairment active and into sport. Currently just 1.5 per cent of those with an impairment in Russia practice sport.
“For Sochi 2014 Russia will have many athletes who can act as role models and inspiration for everyone. At the last Paralympic Winters Games Russia finished second in the medal table but won the most medals with 38.
“It is likely they will be even stronger and even keener to do well on home territory. Although the Games are 1,000 days away the excitement will build every day now until the Opening Ceremony on 7 March 2014.”
In addition to launching the Accessibility Map, numerous events and celebrations will take place in Moscow, Sochi and a number of other Russian cities. This will include master classes hosted by Paralympic athletes, competitions for children and their parents with the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games mascots Ray of Light and Snowflake, sporting competitions and concerts.
For more information about the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, please visit www.sochi2014.com