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With Brazil facing financial difficulty in the wake of the Olympic Games, the Paralympics were given the proverbial short straw. After the successive increase in popularity in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games, everything seemed to be looking up. NBC even allocated more coverage for this year’s Paralympics. Yet many athletes who have trained their whole lives to compete in this summer’s games are at risk of missing out in the Paralympics altogether due to budget cuts. Even a week ago, CNN money reported that “Organizers are two weeks late providing travel grant money that athletes use to travel to the event.” Now, over a week later, the situation doesn’t seem to have gotten better.
So with the clear upwards trajectory in attendance over the past two Paralympics and with 4,000 disabled athletes from 176 countries are scheduled to compete in 23 different sports in Rio de Janeiro from Sept. 7 to 18, the question on everyone’s mind is: what went wrong?
Many claim the budget cuts are linked to the poor ticket sales ahead of the games. With 2 weeks remaining until the opening ceremony, the estimated sales are at just 290,000 tickets. This is only 12% of the available 2.5 million tickets. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president, Philip Craven said Friday, “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.” Many argue that the Paralympics receiving a short shrift in Rio is a continuation of the fact that the organizers struggled to fill the seats for the Olympics in the first place.
However, Craven also points at Brazil’s economic troubles as another clear indicator for why the Paralympics are in jeopardy now. He said, “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.” He is right of course, but that just brings us to a kind of chicken and egg dilemma. After all, if more tickets had been sold, even at $3 a ticket, more funding would be available to provide the agreed financial support to travelling athletes. But to sell more tickets, more of an effort (read: money) would have had to go into the marketing for the Paralympic Games.
We were able to reach Eli Wolff, Director, Sport and Development program at Brown University and Co-Founder, MPower Sports Media for comment. Wolff notes that “There was more of a pro-active and united push to promote the Paralympics in London. London had a history with adaptive sports and the Paralympics that they were able to leverage. Beijing made a big step for adaptive sports and Paralympics from where they were prior to the Games and were able to get some good support from the general public, there was a big effort to invite youth and schools. Rio is new to the Paralympics and does not have as much history with adaptive sports.”
But rather than seeing defeat in the situation, Wolff sees opportunity: “The low ticket sales for the Rio Paralympic Games shows that we still have a long way to go for adaptive sports to reach mainstream sports fans around the world. We need more efforts and initiatives to bring adaptive sports to the masses on an ongoing basis, and we need to better engage mainstream sports media outlets to promote adaptive sports so we reach new audiences. It reinforces the need for the Olympics and Paralympics to continue to work closely together to promote the Olympic and Paralympic Games as a package, and just as we need Paralympians to be vocal fans of Olympians, we need to continue to rally Olympians to be public and passionate fans of Paralympians. We need a united front over the coming days to get more tickets sold and also open up tickets to schools and the youth in Rio to become spectators and fans of adaptive sports and the Paralympic Games.”
After all, only once we have invested fans can we expect full stands.
This piece was co-written by the Foundation’s Advocacy Content Specialist, Kristina Kopic, and Link 20 Network Coordinator, Meir Zimmerman.