We couldn't be happier with the London Paralympics but we will be doing our Games the Brazilian way, says CPB President
Monday, 17 September 2012
After a hugely successful London 2012 Paralympic Games, the spotlight has turned well and truly on Rio de Janeiro and a high bar has been set for the Brazilian city after International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven declared Britain's event the "greatest Paralympics ever".
One thing for certain is that Brazil will be staging a very different Games. While Britain is steeped in Paralympic history, the Games having been created in Stoke Mandeville in 1948, Brazil is positioning itself as its future with Rio 2016 set to be the first time the Paralympics have been staged in South America.
There will be several key figures involved in ensuring the Rio 2016 Paralympics runs smoothly but perhaps none will be more important than the President of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) Andrew Parsons.
The Brazilian, who is also a senior member of the IPC Governing Board, admits he is delighted at the huge success of London 2012 and said it could be a perfect start on the road to Rio.
"More than anything, London has proved that Paralympic sport is something that is attractive, entertaining, fun and commercially viable so we couldn't be happier with the Games in London," Parsons told me on the 2012 Olympic Park before returning home to Brazil.
"The challenge for the IPC now is to keep the momentum created here and focus on what we will do between the Paralympic Games.
"Of course we have the Winter Games in Sochi in two years' time but at the same time, we must focus on what to do between the Summer Games.
"We have to focus on our World Championship events and our regional events, which are becoming huge. There is the Asian Para Games in South Korea in 2014, there is the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and there is the Parapan American Games in Toronto in 2015. So we have to take advantage of the platform London has provided and try to extend this interest into all the other major competitions we have. If we can do that, which will take a lot of work, then the Paralympics in Rio will be amazing because people will already know what to expect. If you couple that with the Brazilian atmosphere and the Brazilian home team effect, I think we will have a fantastic Games.
"Of course we will be different to London. I am not saying the Games will be less organised than London but they will be organised in a different way, a Brazilian way.
"So my main emotion following London 2012 is excitement because we can build on this from an Organising Committee point of view and a Brazilian Paralympic Committee point of view. The scenario we have ahead of us is one that is full of opportunities and we have to be smart enough, capable enough and brave enough to take advantage of them."
The Games themselves were a success from a Brazilian point of view as the nation finished seventh with 43 medals, 21 of which were gold.
"We are very happy with our performances at the Games," said Parsons, the son of expatriate British parents.
"Of course Alan Oliveira is the first name that springs to my mind now and he could be a huge star in the future.
"Athletes like him are helping us do well in our traditionally strong sports like athletics and swimming.
"But we have also had some great results in some of the sports that we are not traditionally strong in like goalball and wheelchair fencing, which 10 years ago was unimaginable.
"This bodes well for 2016 where we are targeting fifth place on the medal table.
"It is going to be very difficult because we will be competing with teams like Australia and the United States for that fifth spot. I think China, Great Britain, Russia and Ukraine are on a different level and will be hard to catch on the medal table but we do want to be competing with the top nations in four years' time."
The subject of Oliveira raises another interesting topic of conversation.
The 20-year-old Brazilian sensationally beat South African superstar Oscar Pistorius in the T44 200 metres, causing Pistorius to launch a controversial verbal attack on his rival, claiming he was only beaten because the length of Oliveira's blades were illegal.
It proved perhaps the most controversial issue of the Paralympics given that Pistorius himself had fought a long legal battle to use blades in able-bodied competition by claiming that they didn't give him an unfair advantage.
Nevertheless, Parsons remains diplomatic.
"People always like to read about controversy so in some way, what happened was good for Paralympic sport," he said.
"But Oscar raised a serious concern that he had.
"I guess what we can say to respond is that Alan played by the rules but Oscar has the right to raise his concern.
"I think that maybe it was the wrong moment to raise that concern right after the race and that drew a negative response.
"People were saying: 'He fought so hard to go to the Olympics saying that prosthetic legs don't give you an advantage and now he is complaining about somebody else's prosthetic legs.'
"But he was disappointed and I think we have to understand that.
"He said his comments in the heat of the moment and we cannot forget that he is still a huge star, a very good athlete and a very good man.
"We still believe he is one of the poster boys that we will have in Rio 2016 and the Brazilian people are looking forward to seeing him for sure."
The rivalry between the two blade runners is promising for 2016 and should attract huge interest in Brazil. But Parsons admits that replicating the 2.7 million tickets sales at the London 2012 Paralympics will perhaps be the biggest challenge for Rio.
"Selling tickets for the Rio 2016 Paralympics is a challenge rather than a concern because to attract 2.7 million people to the Games and sell all those tickets like London did is not easy," he said.
"But we do have experience of this with the Parapan American Games in 2007 in Rio.
"For example, at the swimming venue, there were more spectators at the Parapan Am Games than there were at the Pan Am Games. That shows that the interest is there but it is a matter of promoting it in the right way.
"We also need to find the correct tone in Brazil with the Paralympics.
"What London did very well was to find the tone which we saw with Channel 4 with 'Meet the Super humans'.
"There was also the show in the evening [The Last Leg] with the Australian man [Adam Hill] which was a very funny show.
"It showed a way of dealing with Paralympic sport in what I would say is a very British style.
"It worked very well here but it may not work in Brazil. We have to find our own way of promoting Paralympic sport.
"In Brazil, the people already love Daniel Dias, they are learning to love Alan Oliveira but we still have a challenge to promote these guys, and the entire Paralympics, in the right way."
But before Rio begins, Parsons himself will play a big role in deciding where the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are staged as he was appointed as the IPC representative on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission for the Games.
The Commission, which will be chaired by Britain's IOC vice-president Sir Craig Reedie, will evaluate the candidatures of Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games when they visit all three in March next year.
Parsons says he is delighted to be named in the nine-member Commission.
"Being appointed to the Evaluation Commission for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is a huge honour for me and I am very proud," he said.
"To be in a Commission that will be led by Sir Craig Reedie is a particularly big honour as he is a man of great standing and great experience.
"I know that his experience will be very important in guiding all of the members of the Commission because it is a very important job that we have in evaluating Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo.
"All three cities will know in getting to this stage of the process that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are now one integrated event and they have been for some time. We cannot go back in time and change that so that is the way it is from now on.
"The two Games must be treated equally by the Organising Committee and my expertise in the Paralympic Games is something that I think will be of value to the Commission.
"But we have so many experienced and knowledgeable Commission members and I am very much looking forward to working with my fellow members and the three Candidate Cities in the run-up to next September's election."
Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.