The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games represent the best opportunity for a generation to grow disability awareness in the United States and further educate the country about the extraordinary abilities of disabled athletes, according to the President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Sir Philip Craven.
Speaking on 7 March to mark six months to go until September’s Games, Sir Philip said he believes that with NBC Sports providing unprecedented coverage of the Games, Rio 2016 can have a significant impact in the United States.
In 2013, NBC Sports Group and the United States Olympic Committee obtained the rights to the 2014 and 2016 Paralympics. On the strength of broadcast and streaming sponsors BMW, BP, Citi, Liberty Mutual and Procter & Gamble, NBC Sports is able to commit to 116 hours of Paralympic coverage across the two Games, including 50 hours for Sochi 2014 and 66 for Rio 2016.
To mark six months to go until the biggest Paralympic Games to date, the IPC and US Paralympics published results of a national survey conducted by Benenson Strategy Group* which highlight that there is room for improvement America’s attitudes towards disability, attitudes Sir Philip believes will change once people see the Games.
The survey found:
• 92 per cent of Americans think there are problems with the way people with disabilities are treated in the US
• 71 per cent of Americans think people with disabilities are often ignored or forgotten about
• Half of Americans have witnessed someone being discriminated against because of a disability
Sir Philip Craven said: “Over the years, the Paralympic Games have developed a strong track record for changing and challenging deep-rooted views in society regarding disability. Thanks to widespread media coverage of Beijing 2008 and London 2012, the Paralympics have established themselves as the world’s number one sporting event for driving social inclusion.
“The United States has always been a global leader in social change, including in regards to disabilities; however, research indicates that there is still room for the U.S. to grow, and Rio 2016 can be the catalyst for another level of education and inclusion. I am confident that with more TV coverage than ever before in the U.S., the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are the best opportunity to further transform U.S. attitudes.”
Sir Philip said that although the research findings had been a real “eye-opener” for him, he was greatly encouraged by the results which highlight what impact seeing Paralympic sport can have.
• 84 per cent believe attitudes toward people with disabilities would change if people saw them competing in sports at a high level
• 95 per cent say Paralympians are good role models for both disabled and non-disabled Americans
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are set to be even bigger than London 2012, with 4,350 athletes competing in 22 sports. NBC and NBCSN will present 66 hours of coverage, unprecedented for a summer Games in the United States. TeamUSA.org will live stream comprehensive coverage of the Paralympics. The IPC is confident that the cumulative global TV audience will exceed four billion people for the first time.
Richard Browne, the U.S. 100m and 200m T44 world champion and world record holder, who now trains in Great Britain, has seen first-hand what impact widespread media coverage of Paralympic sport can have.
“Ahead of London 2012, I think most people assumed Great Britain was a very inclusive country and that the Games would do little in terms of changing attitudes. They were very wrong!” Browne said. “The Paralympics were front and back page news and constantly on TV. Their impact was truly unbelievable and unmeasurable.”
According to research conducted after London 2012, one in three British adults – equivalent to 20 million people – changed their attitudes towards people with a disability as a result of watching the Games.
London 2012 involved more than 4,200 athletes from 164 countries competing in 20 sports. They attracted 2.76 million spectators, making them the world’s third-biggest sporting event in terms of tickets sales, whilst a cumulative TV audience of 3.8 billion watched on television in over 100 countries. Speaking at the Closing Ceremony of the Games, Lord Coe, the chair of London 2012 Organising Committee, proclaimed: “In this country we will never think of sport the same way and we will never think of disability the same way.”
Wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden will defend three Paralympic titles at Rio 2016 and agrees with what Coe said in September 2012.
“I think London 2012 really did change how people view disability in Britain. Before the Games, disability was seen by some as a negative and meant you couldn’t do something. Then along came the Paralympics and people saw the amazing abilities of the athletes who had dedicated their lives to maximising what did work as opposed to what didn’t.
“Since London 2012, I have definitely seen more awareness of Paralympic sport in the U.S. and I hope Rio 2016 can take it to the next level. TV coverage of the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics was a step in the right direction and I am really excited for what we can achieve in Rio.
“As shown with previous Paralympic Games, widespread media coverage can trigger seismic changes in attitudes. I aim to do my bit in Rio by winning as many gold medals as possible for Team USA; the intensity of my training has really stepped up a level in recent weeks.”
U.S. Paralympics will take around 260 athletes to Rio 2016, including a number of war veterans such as swimmer Brad Snyder, a two-time Paralympic and three-time world champion. Snyder won his second Paralympic gold at London 2012, exactly one year to the day after losing his eyesight from an IED explosion while serving in the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan.
Brad Snyder said: “London 2012 not only transformed my life but also the lives of the millions who watched online around the world. Each athlete who competes at the Paralympics has an amazing story to tell, and by watching the Games it redefines what people believe is humanly possible.
“The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games could be a real game-changer; they are a once in a generation chance to improve the lives of the millions of Americans with a disability by making for a more inclusive society.”