Rio Paralympics under fire with teams forced to clean 'grimy' rooms in Athletes Village as cuts bite

By Ben Rumsby

The athletes' village in Rio. Photo / AP
The athletes' village in Rio. Photo / AP

Countries arriving in Rio for the Paralympics have been forced to clean "grimy" apartments in the Athletes Village and arrange their own transportation during the Games following the swingeing cuts to its budget, the Daily Telegraph can reveal.

A week away from the opening ceremony of disability sport's blue-riband event, the impact of the biggest crisis the Paralympic movement has ever faced was already being felt on the ground as a new wave of athletes began to converge on Brazil following the Olympics.

Travel grants vital to the participation of dozens of nations had still to be paid, with those countries already in Rio forced to foot the bill themselves in the hope of being reimbursed by the Rio organising committee.

Cuts to the transport network for the Games also meant countries having to source drivers and vehicles - again at their own expense - to ensure their athletes and officials were able to get around the city.

Advanced parties from national Paralympic committees even had to resort to "scrubbing and cleaning" apartments in the Athletes Village ahead of the arrival of competitors following the failure of the organising committee to do so adequately in the week-and-a-half since the Olympics finished.

Problems have quickly emerged as a result of the cuts to the Paralympics budget, which were announced less than a fortnight ago after Rio 2016 ran out of money to stage the Games in their intended form. That prompted the president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Sir Philip Craven, to declare: "Never before in the 56-year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this."

The unprecedented crisis sparked fears Paralympians would return to being treated like "second-class citizens" in comparison to their able-bodied counterparts, with London 2012 star Jonnie Peacock claiming organisers should be "ashamed" of using money earmarked for the disability event to prop up the Olympics.

While the threat of catastrophic ticket sales for the Paralympics has receded - more than one million have now been sold - organisational chaos looms large.

The British Paralympic Association (BPA) confirmed it had been among those forced to take remedial action ahead of the arrival of its athletes after the chief executive of Paralympics Ireland, Liam Harbison, outlined the challenges he and his team had faced at the Athletes Village this week.

Harbison told the Telegraph: "We're pretty much just scrubbing and cleaning the apartments ourselves.

"There was a rudimentary clean but to get it clean as we expect, we had to do it ourselves." Branding the rooms "dusty and grimy", he added: "We had to give them a good scrub."

The news on transport was not much better. "Because of the cutbacks, the organising committee aren't providing drivers, so I've spent the last day or two trying to hire drivers basically to ferry our team all around Rio for the next two weeks," said Harbison, who also claimed six-figure travel grants due to all competing nations in July had still not been paid.

Harbison said he had been assured the cash was on its way but added: "I'll believe it when the money gets paid. The countries that are here are the ones that are just happy to dip into reserves and would have paid for all flights anyway."

Dozens of Paralympic committees depend on travel grants to bring their athletes to the Games and, although the BPA is not one of them, it has had to dip into its coffers not just for flights but also additional car travel around Rio.

The chef de mission for ParalympicsGB, Penny Briscoe, arrived in the city the same day as the cutbacks were announced and has been in the Athletes Village for almost a week.

She said: "We've had two chef de mission briefings already so far and both the OCOG [organising committee] and the IPC have been very open about challenges with us and the strategies they are putting in place to put on a Paralympic Games that is great on and off the field of play.

"Some of these strategies include that the OCOG has maintained the advanced level of security and enhanced building maintenance and servicing that they brought in part way through the Olympic Games.

"Our experience in village to date has been a really positive one, with staff and volunteers from the organising committee responding positively to any requests that we have made.

"Our biggest concerns remain around transport - we only received the revised Paralympic Route Network yesterday - but we will be monitoring how it develops now that the system is starting to get up and running," Briscoe added. "We have already put in place plans to mitigate some of the risks through an independent fleet of team vehicles.

"As chef de mission, my team and I have worked really hard both in terms of our plans and working with the OCOG and the IPC to get the village environment right and in the best possible condition for the first ParalympicsGB athletes arriving today."

Rio 2016 did not respond to requests for comment, while the IPC said travel grants should be paid imminently.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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