It’s almost become the norm for the build up to any major sporting event to be awash with negative stories, but the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games has had more than its fair share of ups and downs. Many of which were outside of its control. Ticketing, politics, economics and doping all overshadowed the build-up, with many people worried Rio could be a major step backwards in the Paralympic movement, particularly after the high of London 2012.
However, as I sat down at the iconic Maracana with 70,000 fanatical Brazilians, another 20,000 fans from across the world and over 4,000 athletes – after arriving on a new accessible Metro system that stretches across the city – it reminded me that every Games does not start from equal. Thanks to the Olympic and Paralympic movement, Brazil and Rio have begun to change their society and culture, making it more tolerant, more equal and more accessible but it takes time. Last night was a great place to start though.
With the formalities out of the way, the athletes – these Superhumans – I know will put on a great show that will stop the negative conversation in its tracks. Ticket sales now stand over 1.7million with 2.4million due to be sold by the end of the Games, which is a testament to the work put in by the all the Paralympic partners, and it will no doubt boost the performances of all the athletes involved; particularly home favourites Daniel Dias and the flamboyant Terezinha Guilerminha. If ever an athlete summed up what Brazil and Rio are like it is her!
I’m in Rio de Janeiro with Channel 4 and their publicity team, who have played a major part in helping to change the way disability is perceived at London 2012 and who have continued that support through the last four years into Rio 2016. Last night, as proof of all the channels hard work, viewing figures for the Opening Ceremony reached a peak audience of 2.2million, with viewing share peaking at 19.1% of the TV audience. People have made a connection with these athletes, their stories and the desire to inspire people through their actions.
When it comes to inspirational actions, keep an eye out today for Dame Sarah Storey (with just the 11 Paralympic gold medals to her name to date) as she aims to hit the ground running with Gold in the track cycling Individual Pursuit, which would make her Britain’s greatest ever female Paralympian. And tomorrow, the Men’s T44 100m – featuring Britain’s golden boy of 2012 Jonnie Peacock – has the potential to see all men competing go under 11 secs, and in doing so would make Paralympic history.
Now that’s what Paralympic sport should be about.