China a friend of Paralympics, says top official

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 September, 2008, 12:00am

China has put on a wonderful Paralympic Games that has helped transform world opinion about the country, Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said yesterday.

And although he did not use the word 'exceptional' to describe the Games - as Olympics chief Jacques Rogge did last month - Sir Philip said there was nothing about the arrangements that he was not happy about.

'Prior to the Games, western journalistic views were focused on how China could and would respond to problems,' said Sir Philip, who was in Hong Kong to watch the equestrian events at the Sha Tin venue.

'But I have found a lot of things that we can take away from China. The capability of the Chinese to learn very quickly and accept advice, their ability to work as a team themselves and then to work with other organisations such as the IPC, the International Equestrian Federation and the organising committee here in Hong Kong.'

He cited the example of one of their worldwide partners who had said four days before the opening of the Games that 'the Beijing Paralympics will be the greatest ever'.

'Something must have been in the air for him to say this sort of atmosphere or spirit was there even before the Games, and it has just continued through,' he said.

Sir Philip said he was impressed by the volunteers, whose openness would 'transform world knowledge and opinion about how China is'.

He was also confident that the attendance in Beijing would set a record for a Paralympic Games.

'The documented record from Sydney is 1.2 million. That will be broken here in China,' he said. 'There were many spectators in Barcelona in 1992, probably well over a million, but there were no ticket sales as it was free entry.'

Sir Philip was deeply impressed to see Beijing's 90,000-seat 'Bird's Nest' stadium packed to capacity when he attended the athletics events. 'When the Chinese athlete passed the finish and set a world record in the 5,000 metres, the roof lifted off the stadium. It was absolutely amazing,' he said. 'After the first four days, China has already become, as a nation, a friend of Paralympic sport.'

Christopher Hodson, vice-president of the International Equestrian Federation, said that the attendance of 5,600 recorded on the opening day in Hong Kong was 'marvellous - far more than ever before'.