March 4 - Despite ongoing tensions surrounding the Crimea crisis, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven has arrived in Sochi ahead of the Opening Ceremony on Friday (March 7) and claimed the Winter Games will be a huge success.
Sir Philip arrived ahead of what will be his fourth and final Winter Paralympics as IPC President and was greeted by Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dimitry Chernyshenko and a host of volunteers.
The Briton appeared unperturbed by events happening around 300 miles away in Ukraine's Crimea, where tensions are mounting after Russia sent thousands of troops to the region to protect its interests following months of protest and unrest in the country, which has resulted in the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
"The IPC 's role in Sochi is to organise, together with the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, the best ever Paralympic Winter Games for the athletes who have spent years of their lives training to get here," said Sir Philip, re-elected for a fourth term at the IPC General Assembly in Athens last November.
"We're fully aware of what is going on elsewhere and will leave global politics to the politicians.
"We're monitoring the situation closely and the safety and well-being of athletes and officials is our top priority.
"Final preparations are on track ahead of Friday's Opening Ceremony and we are confident of a great Games here in Sochi."
First elected in 2001, Craven has attended Winter Games at Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010, but believes this year's Games have the potential to make the biggest impact and leave a lasting legacy in the host country.
Russia has traditionally had a questionable record on its treatment of people with disabilities, but Sir Philip believes the hosting of these Games will help to alter the attitude and perception of disability throughout Russian society.
"When you compare Sochi to previous Paralympic Winter Games, it's best to look at the starting point and look ahead to what might happen," said the 63-year-old.
"Back in 1980, the Paralympic Games were not held in Moscow because the old USSR Government said they had no people with an impairment in their country.
"So, to be here in Sochi 34 years later for Russia's first Paralympic Games is a huge achievement in itself and proof that things are changing here for the better.
"Once the sport starts and people see the amazing feats of endeavour performed by the athletes on snow and on ice, I expect attitudes in this country towards people with an impairment to change for the better too.
"We have seen it at previous Games and I expect Russia to be no different."
Sir Philip joins 39 of the 45 nations set to compete in the Games who are already in Sochi, with the six remaining teams expected to arrive in the Black Sea resort by Thursday (March 6).
Tomorrow, Sir Philip will chair a meeting of the IPC Governing Board before attending the Paralympic Lighting Ceremony in Rosa Khutor, which will host the alpine skiing and snowboard events.
On Thursday he is due to open the Paralympic Wall in the Coastal Village before he takes part in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Torch Relay.
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]
March 2014: Prince Edward pulls out of attending Sochi 2014 Paralympics over Ukraine crisis
March 2014: US will not send delegation to Sochi 2014 Paralympics in response to Crimea troops
March 2014: Paralympic Torch continues journey as Opening Ceremony nears
March 2014: Nick Butler - From Stoke Mandeville to Sochi via Crimea, the Paralympics are almost upon us
January 2014: IPC to show 300 hours of live coverage from Sochi 2014