Spirit of optimism: ticket sales soar to 1.6 million for Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games

Organisers give an upbeat assessment of the cash-strapped showcase for disabled athletes, which begins on Wednesday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2016, 1:01pm

With the Rio Paralympics set to begin on Wednesday, organisers say ticket sales have jumped from around 200,000 to 1.6 million, and a spirit of optimism now pervades the cash-strapped event.

“It’s helped by the fact that the Brazilian team did so well in the final weekend of the Olympics,” said Craig Spence, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). “It gave the ­Cariocas a flavour of what they can expect in Rio with the Brazilian team chasing a top-five finish in the medals table.”

Spence and Mario Andrada, spokesman for the local organising committee, were joined by three athletics stars – Tatyana McFadden of the United States, Ireland’s Jason Smyth and Marlou van Rhijn of the Netherlands – and gave an upbeat assessment of a Games that faced budget shortfalls and accessibility concerns for the disabled athletes.

The IPC and Rio 2016 committee organisers tried to assure the world that preparations are going smoothly, though neither promised the best Paralympics ever, four years after a Games in London that were considered a turning point in sports of the disabled.

“It’s impossible in the modern era to have a glitch-free Games – you haven’t seen any in history,” Andrada said. “As far as Rio 2016 is concerned, we hope to learn from the IPC as much as we learn from the IOC. We hope we can react to our glitches and, eventually, our mistakes as fast as we did during the Olympic Games.”

McFadden plans on trying to win an unprecedented seven gold medals in wheelchair racing, from the 100 metres to the marathon, in her fourth summer Paralympic Games.

She credited the #FillTheSeats campaign, a drive to buy and ­donate tickets to young people, for some of the momentum in Rio. The effort has received donations from McFadden, as well as pop group Coldplay and Britain’s Prince Harry.

Spence said that, overall, ­organisers are now selling around 40,000 tickets per day and expect to overtake Beijing’s sale of 1.7 million tickets total, making Rio the second best-attended Paralympics behind London 2012.

After over a month’s delay, travel grants were finally being paid for all of the countries, easing a worry that some nations couldn’t afford to send athletes to Rio de Janeiro.

After the news conference, Spence said there were now athletes from 159 countries on the ground in Brazil, plus two “independent” refugee athletes.

Eighty-four Russian athletes lost their bid to compete as individuals in a German court ruling, a legal bid that followed the IPC’s ban on the entire Russian team for systematic doping.

“We are confident that the decision we have made is the correct decision,” Spence said. “It’s our job as the IPC to ensure fair competition and a level playing field for all athletes.

“We believe that with the current circumstances we cannot achieve that if there is Russian participation here at the Paralympic Games.”