By Duncan Mackay
January 8 - Channel 4 have been awarded the rights to broadcast the 2012 London Paralympics in a deal worth more than £5 million, beating off the BBC, who had shown every Games since 1980 and invested several million pounds into promoting disability sport.
The deal with will provide the Paralympic Games and Paralympic sport with the strongest pre-Games broadcast coverage and marketing support it has ever received in the UK, London 2012 officials claimed.
It will also give the Paralympic Movement more financial muscle to raise sponsorship, they said.
Channel 4's bid was also chosen ahead of BSkyB.
Sebastian Coe, the chairman of London 2012, said: "The eyes of the world will be focussed on the Paralympic Games – the world’s second biggest multi-sport event - in London in 2012. "We will deliver a spectacular sporting showcase for the world’s greatest Paralympic athletes, and will use the power of Paralympic sport to raise awareness; challenge stereotypes; inspire understanding and communicate the Paralympic values of determination, courage, inspiration and equality.
"We are absolutely delighted to appoint Channel 4 as our broadcast partner in the UK.
"Channel 4 shares our vision for the Paralympic Games, has a very strong appeal to young people, and will play a hugely important role in increasing public engagement and involvement in Paralympic sport in this country.
"We are confident that the quality and depth of the broadcast coverage provided by Channel 4 not just for the 12 days of sport in 2012, but in the two and a half years leading up to the Games, will inspire disabled people of all ages to take up sport and be a catalyst for continued change in public attitudes towards disability.
"The commercial value of this deal has raised the bar financially for the Paralympic Movement."
The deal with Channel 4 includes multi-platform broadcast rights within the UK, with non-exclusive rights in the Republic of Ireland.
Channel 4 will produce and screen two peak-time 10 part documentaries in 2011 and 2012, building the stories of the athletes and their journey to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
It will also include dedicated coverage of the Paralympic Torch Relay and will be supported by the biggest marketing campaign in the broadcaster's history.
Channel 4 will also cover key disability sports and sporting events, in the run up to the Paralympic Games in 2012, something which the BBC have traditionally done, including the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester.
At Games-time, Channel 4 will deliver over 150 hours of coverage of the Paralympic Games, with over 130 hours on their main channel, they have promised.
The coverage will be led by a flagship peak-time show, and extensive coverage will also be provided on mobile and online.
Subtitling and audio description will form part of all the programming, ensuring the widest possible audience can enjoy the Games, Channel 4 said.
Lord Burns, Channel 4’s chairman designate, said: "For Channel 4, the London Paralympic Games will be the main event, not a sideshow to the Olympics; the Games will define our year in 2012 and take over Channel 4 for their duration.
"The Paralympics will be one of the most significant sporting events to be staged in Britain for many years and we're confident the more comprehensive and more cross-platform coverage we are offering can connect the Games with the widest possible cross-section of British viewers."
Kevin Lygo, Channel 4’s Director of Television and Content, said: "Channel 4 has done more than any other broadcaster to bring disability into the mainstream and we have a great track record of broadcast innovation with sports like Test cricket.
"We are genuinely thrilled to be given this opportunity to work with LOCOG to bring Paralympic sport into full public focus before, during and beyond the 2012 Games and to deliver a lasting legacy, including altering public attitudes to disability and disability sport."
Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said: "The IPC congratulates Channel 4 as a free to air public broadcaster in being awarded the national television rights for the UK.
"I am sure they will work diligently in portraying just what a magnificent event the Paralympic Games really are, what Paralympic athletes are able to achieve and how they can inspire the world with their performances.
"The IPC also wants to thank LOCOG, following a very open, transparent and fair process.
"The quality of all bids was very high, and I am confident that all bidding companies would have put on a great Paralympic Games coverage."
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain's most succesful-ever Paralympian, having won 16 medals in her career, including 11 gold, backed the decision.
She said: "I am pleased that the Paralympic Games will be shown by a terrestrial broadcaster in the UK in 2012.
"Channel 4 has some exciting plans for its coverage and marketing support.
"I look forward to seeing these plans progress in the coming months and years ahead on the road to London 2012."
The BBC issued a statement in which it said: "We are disappointed to have not been awarded the rights to the 2012 Paralympic Games.
"We're proud of our traditions and record in covering disability sport.
"However, we are pleased that the Games will be available to free to air audiences, and we congratulate Channel Four on securing the rights.
"We are sure the 2012 Paralympics will be a great success."
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