Paralympians getting raw deal as recession-hit Rio retrenches

By David Leggat

Kiwi Paralympian Mary Fisher is a medal prospect in Rio, having won gold, two silvers and a bronze in 2012.  Photo / Brett Phibbs
Kiwi Paralympian Mary Fisher is a medal prospect in Rio, having won gold, two silvers and a bronze in 2012. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Fingers are crossed that all will be well when the paralympic games open in rio tomorrow (nzt).

The buildup hasn't been encouraging, with fears of banks of empty seats, budget problems, downgraded facilities and a shortfall of volunteers putting the wrong sort of attention on the brazilian city.

Brazil is suffering the worst recession in decades and that has provided an unstable foundation for the games.

Venues have been scaled down and the deodoro olympic park, the second largest cluster of venues, was partly closed recently. Some events have been relocated to the main olympic park.

Big screens have been taken down and 1900 temporary staff laid off.

It doesn't bode well but the spirit will survive at these games for those who overcome physical and intellectual handicaps to compete every four years, as their able-bodied colleagues do a few weeks earlier.

The profile of the paralympics in new zealand has lifted substantially in recent years, in large part due to an increasing awareness of the country's best competitors, such as swimmers sophie pascoe and mary fisher.

New zealand have sent a team of 31 - bolstered by two late inclusions, para canoe athlete scott martlew and para cyclist fraser sharp - and will contest six sports; cycling, athletics, swimming, sailing, shooting and canoeing.

The additions came out of the ipc decision on august 7 to suspend the russian national paralympic committee in a spinoff from the systematic doping violations which cast a dark cloud over the olympic games.

New zealand have had a strong presence on the paralympic stage since first competing at tel aviv in 1968.

Twenty years ago, swimmer duane kale won six individual medals, including four world records at atlanta, a record equalled by pascoe in london in 2012.

Four years ago, new zealand won 17 medals, and the title of most successful nation on the medals per capita table, and among the ambitions of this year's team is to win 18 medals - which would match the record number won at the olympic games - and retain that title. When the third new zealand medal is won it will lift the country's all-time paralympic tally to 200 - all bar three won at summer paralympics.

The spotlight will be on brazil and its treatment of disabled people during the paralympics.

"The situation in rio is very difficult," theresa costa d'amaral, of the brazilian institute for the rights of people with disabilities, said.

"People are put at the margin of society because a wheelchair can't get on a bus, or because there aren't enough schools teaching braille," costa d'amaral said.

"People with disabilities have to fight a lot to have their basic right to access health and education. It's not an easy life, being disabled in rio."

- NZ Herald

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