Rio Paralympic gloom has lifted amid successes

VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: Our diarist has stayed on in Rio for the Paralympics, feeling the chill air of the aircon and budget cuts, and seeing the warm glow of spectator appreciation for the competitors

We are now more than halfway through the 2016 Paralympics and despite the doom and gloom in the build-up to these Games, the event has so far been pleasingly successful.

Wheelchair racer Hannah Cockcroft is one of a record-breaking medal-winning British team in Rio
Wheelchair racer Hannah Cockcroft is one of a record-breaking medal-winning British team in Rio

Ticket sales picked up remarkably from the end of the Olympics, when just 12 per cent had been sold. Now, the Games organisers hope to sell their 2 millionth ticket some time in the next couple of days. The sales figures mean that Rio 2016 has already surpassed Beijing 2008 to become the second most successful Paralympics ever, behind London 2012.

The atmosphere is markedly different to that at the Olympics. Locals have spoken to reporters here about their preference for supporting competitors at the Paralympics, who have struggled with adversity in a way their Olympic counterparts and many of us cannot begin to imagine.

That is also, surely, helped by the fact that Brazil has a much stronger Paralympic team, targeting a top-five finish in the medal table.

For us journalists, the MPC, Main Press Centre, is a calmer place thanks mainly due to fewer numbers. Yet do not think it is a ghost town. With fewer press conferences scheduled every day, it means a greater number are being able to focus on the sporting action and the stories from inside the venues.

The highly publicised budget cutbacks have had an effect, though. The daily press briefings from organisers and the IPC take place in the press conference room of the Aquatics Center in the Paralympic Park, instead of the press conference building next door to the MPC.

The reason? No clear indication was given aside from cutbacks, but it’s understood that organisers realised they could save money on air conditioning expenses by have the press conferences in a smaller setting.

The transport shuttles are fewer, too, meaning public transport often has to be relied on to get around. This is not a big problem, except when you need to travel during Rio’s rush hour, as the city has resumed normal working hours after a plethora of public holidays during the Olympics.

There have been no major problems in journalists getting on with doing their job and enjoying the Rio Paralympic experience. There was concern at the weekend as gunfire erupted between criminals and police near the Sambadrome where Paralympic archery is taking place. Two civilians were caught in the crossfire and were treated for their injuries.

But security has been intensified and competition has not been affected. Indeed, spectators were fairly large in number at the archery on Sunday.

Some venues still have scores of empty seats. Again, the Olympic Stadium has suffered from occasional low numbers, even with a much-reduced capacity from when it hosted competition earlier in the Olympics.

Hopefully there will be a number of people in the stands to cheer on journalists taking part in the media 4x100m relay in the stadium on Friday afternoon. Or perhaps not…


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