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  • Tuesday Talk -- Rio Paralympic Expert on Integrated Planning, Universal Design, Games Legacy


    Rio 2016 CEO Leonardo Gryner and Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) president Andrew Parsons marked 2,000 days to go until the 2016 Paralympics during the CPB's general assembly on March 18. (CPB)
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    (ATR) Brazilian Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons tells Around the Rings preparations for the 2016 Olympics and 2016 Paralympics are one and the same.

    Parsons, also a governing board member of the International Paralympic Committee, spoke to ATR ahead of this week's IOC Coordination Commission inspection of Rio de Janeiro about integrated planning, universal design and the legacy they ensure for the 2016 host city.

    Around the Rings: Obviously, preparations for the Rio Olympics are in full-swing already, but what’s being done at this juncture specifically to promote and prepare for the Rio Paralympics?

    Andrew Parsons: It’s an integrated model, so every function or area is planning for both events.

    We actually have a Paralympics integration manager ensuring that all the different functions and areas are planning for both events.

    We are very happy to say that up to this moment what we have seen is that the organizing committee is committed to delivering both Games at the highest possible level, both Olympic and Paralympic Games. So we are very confident and we are very happy with what we have been seeing so far.

    ATR: How high can Brazil finish on the medal table at the London Paralympics, and what’s been done to improve that ahead of the Rio Paralympics?

    AP: We have a target for London. We finished ninth in the medal tally in Beijing, so our target is to finish in seventh next year. We have to win a few more gold medals, and the target for Rio is to finish in fifth place. This will be a huge challenge, but we think that it’s feasible.

    To make that happen, we’re doing a lot of things. First, we created what we’re calling the Paralympic Gold Program. We have a team of athletes across several sports – those who have the potential to win gold medals – and we are giving them a very special preparation in terms of staff around them. If they need a psychologist, if they need a different coach for a specific aspect, if they need to travel for specific competitions around the world, we are providing them full-support, but not money in their pockets.

    At the same time, we have the permanent Paralympic teams in several sports. They receive a monthly payment as well as some structure from the Brazilian Paralympic Committee.
    Brazil won gold in the men's 4x100m (T42-T46 classification) at the Beijing Paralympics, one of 47 total medals for the 2016 host country. (Getty Images)

    We are also investing in the grassroots. We are organizing an annual event called School Paralympics. Last year, it was held in Sao Paulo with more than 800 children and youngsters with a disability from 23 out of the 27 states that we have in Brazil. Our national coordinators and coaches were there looking for some talents, which we are engaging on our national teams.

    We have a lot of projects that we are developing in Brazil with 2016 as the target.

    ATR: How will the Rio Paralympics differ majorly from past editions of the Games?

    AP: First, we have the Rio atmosphere in terms of celebration, in terms of what the city of Rio de Janeiro and what the carioca people can add to the Games. For sure, we will have a lot of spectators in the stadiums, but with a vibrant atmosphere.

    What I keep saying is that Brazil already knows Paralympic sport and Paralympic athletes. The society in general already understands Paralympic sport is high-level competition and recognizes Paralympic athletes as athletes and cheers for them. We will not have to discover Paralympic sport one month prior to the Games. I think this can make a huge difference because it’s not like some previous Paralympic Games when you had half-empty stadiums. We are confident that we will have a lot of spectators and crowds in the sports facilities that already know how the sport is played, that understand the sport and understand a little bit of classification and know the athletes, not only the Brazilian athletes but some athletes around the world like, of course, Oscar Pistorius but maybe the athletes who compete against our athletes.

    With this integrated planning, we want to deliver, of course, the best Olympic Games ever, and the idea is to deliver the best Paralympic Games ever using the same planning and the same delivery.

    ATR: What will the Rio Paralympics mean for Brazilians with disabilities?

    AP: It’s a huge opportunity to change the perception that people have about persons with disabilities. It’s already happening – the Games in Athens, the Games in Beijing, the ParaPan American Games in Rio in 2007 – but hosting the Games will give Brazilian society the opportunity to see the best Paralympic athletes of the world, not only the best Brazilian athletes.
    When IOC Coordination Commission members inspect Olympic works this week, they'll also be looking at Paralympic preparations. Due to integrate planning, says Parsons, they're one and the same. (ATR)

    With the promotion that we can do and will do around the Games, people will understand that Paralympic athletes are equal to Olympic athletes in the sense that they are both athletes. They face similar challenges on their paths from grassroots to the top of the podium, and at the same time, we have this journey from the day that a parent or a person with disability himself or herself hears the diagnosis saying “Ok, you’re blind” or “You have cerebral palsy.”

    This journey from a very difficult moment is what we want to promote in the next few years so people can understand that persons with disabilities can succeed. We have to show to people through the Paralympic Games that the 25 million people with disabilities here in Brazil can be productive. The culture can be proud of them.

    We want to change the perception of people and of society in general, and we can only change reality when we change the perception of people. I think the Games will mean a lot. It will be the cherry on top of the pie after one decade of very good results in Paralympic sports.

    ATR: What about the actual tangible effects that the 2016 Paralympics will have on Rio de Janeiro? How will the Games make the city more accessible for people with disabilities?

    AP: That’s a good point in having this integrated planning. People keep asking me “Are you aware of the plans for the Olympics? Did you approve them?”

    What I keep saying to people is we don’t need to approve them. We are planning together with the organizing committee and the three levels of government.

    Cince the beginning of the planning, we have been involved, so the whole Rio de Janeiro infrastructure is being planned to be accessible from the very beginning. We can say that we will have more accessible sports facilities, training centers, transport systems, etc. Everything that is being built now is being built accessible. We will not change anything in the future, and I think this is a good example for people who will build new public or private buildings in Rio de Janeiro – that if you plan with what we call universal design, you don’t have to change anything in the future, so it will save you some money.

    ATR: Will the Brazilian Paralympic Committee make money or lose money from hosting the Games?

    AP: We have a joint-marketing agreement signed with the Rio organizing committee, and the expectation is very good because the excitement is there around the Paralympic Games as well.
    Parsons flanked by Brazilian Paralympians Daniel Dias and Sandro Laia during a 2009 visit from the IOC Evaluation Commission. (ATR)

    We know that the sponsors that want to sponsor the Olympic Games want to sponsor the Paralympic Games as well. I think we will make some money from the JMA that we have with Rio 2016. At the same time, we are looking for sponsors not for the Brazilian Paralympic Committee itself but for the Brazilian Paralympic federations themselves, the national federations. We are in partnership with them looking for sponsors for the specific sports. We have been very successful in this business model.

    It’s not only the Brazilian Paralympic Committee that is making money from the Games. The Paralympic Movement in Brazil is receiving an injection of funds from different sources because of the Games.

    Interview conducted by Matthew Grayson.

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