Paralympic growth could be ‘endangered’ by an Olympic merger

Scottish tandem pair Neil Fachie and Lewis Stewart compete with Wales' James Ball and Matt Rotherham
The Commonwealths men’s tandem races saw some great battles between Scotland’s Neil Fachie and Wales’ James Ball
Hosts: Birmingham dates: July 28 to August 8
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The International Paralympic Committee says Paralympic growth “could be jeopardized” if the Games were merged with the Olympics.

The parasport program at the 2022 Commonwealth Games was a huge success and sparked calls for greater integration.

But while the sports and athletes involved in Birmingham have benefited from the increased profile, IPC spokesman Craig Spence told the BBC’s Access All podcast that the current agreement for separate Olympic and Paralympic Games “will serve us well”.

The current deal for the same city to host both Games was signed in 2018 and will run until the 2032 Games in Brisbane.

“We’ve seen exponential growth in Paralympic sport since 1988,” said Spence, IPC’s chief brand and communications officer.

“We have a strong preponderance and the Games are growing, so combining both events would potentially stunt and jeopardize that growth, and we could potentially go backwards.

“This is a conversation that comes up regularly, but you have to see if it makes sense to bring both Games together and at the moment we don’t think so.

“The current agreement works for us right now. It does us good and we like it and want to keep it.”

Birmingham has a record 42 parasport events across eight sports, with over 350 athletes participating in a fully integrated programme.

Huge crowds cheered swimmers like Maisie Summers-Newton and Bethany Firth, athletes Hannah Cockroft and Olivia Breen, and cyclists Neil Fachie and James Ball to the gold medal as they represented the home countries.

However, the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024 will have 549 medal events involving approximately 4,400 athletes plus support staff.

And while Paralympic legend Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson supports greater integration at both Commonwealth and European and World levels, she told the podcast that the logistics of a combined Olympic and Paralympic Games were challenging.

“On a practical level, I don’t think there is any city in the world that could hold a combined Games,” she said.

“There are 10,000 athletes in an Olympics and about 4,500 in a Paralympic Games, and in addition to the higher costs, it would end up being a program of about a month.

“So in reality you should be scrapping events and what would you do?

“It should be a smaller Games and spectators wouldn’t be able to see how many disabled people are participating.

“People in Birmingham have enjoyed watching disabled people fight [at the Commonwealth Games]so we need to keep building the profile of the Paralympics to get people to come and watch para-athletes.”

Spence is also concerned that a merger could weaken the impact of the Paralympic Games.

“Britain is at the forefront of Paralympic sport and reporting, but it’s not the same all over the world,” he said.

“Maybe the equality we want is the same level of coverage from broadcasters around the world for Olympic and Paralympic Games – not just in Britain.

“Our fear is that if you brought both events together, you would hear much less about Paralympic achievements and jeopardize the impact of the Games as the most transformative sporting event on Earth.

“Our ambition is to continue to grow the Paralympic Games and there is so much more potential to make the Games even better.”

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