Craig Spence, Director of Communications for the International Paralympic Committee spoke to Leeds Northern about the future of the Paralympic Games.
“The 2012 games were great. It was the first time that a country had been determined to make a difference. Seb Coe was committed to making the games of equal splendour. The results are there for all to see, ticket sales were through the roof, we had 3.8 billion TV viewers around the world.” Craig explained.
But is not simply the number of people seeing the event that was important. It was the ability of the Games to change the perception of disabled people in wider society. He said: “The games have had some fantastic results when it comes to changing the perceptions of disabled people around the world – and the momentum is continuing. The plans that are in place for Rio actually go one step further.”
Indeed, the perception of the paralymic sport as something equally important to Olympic sport has been a challenge. But bring ticket prices in line with other elite sports has had a big impact in raising its profile. Craig explained: “You don’t go to an elite sporting event and not expect to pay. We charged a small amount at Athens and Beijing, but London was the first time we priced it like an elite sporting event – and it worked.”
What is perhaps more important than the games themselves, is the impact they have had on wider society beyond the games. Craig said: “We don’t like to talk about legacy - we talk about momentum. The momentum is that more people are practicing paralympic sport, there’s more coverage for paralympians outside of the Paralympic Games, and different attitudes to impairment are coming through.”
With cuts to disability benefits and the closures of sports and leisure centres across the country, one might be led to assume that this would damage the momentum of Paralympic sport. Craig said: “I think that the government has actually done a good job engaging people – they’ve invested a lot in the British Paralympic Association. If you look at Sport England and UK Sport’s latest round of funding they’ve invested more money in Paralympic sport than ever before.”