Rio Paralympic organizers worry about ticket sales but promise great show

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Brazil's top organizer for the coming Rio Paralympics tells AFP that empty stadiums are a worry, amid struggles to sell tickets 100 days from kickoff. But he promises an inspirational sporting event.

The Paralympics take place September 7-18 in the wake of the Summer Olympics, the first ever held in South America. About 4,350 athletes from 170 countries will take part in 22 sports and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven predicts that records will tumble.

At the start of the three-month countdown, the head of Brazil's Paralympics committee, Andrew Parsons, outlined his concerns -- and hopes.

Q: The IPC is worried about poor ticket sales in Rio. What are you doing to try and fix that?

A: "It is true that our main focus is the tickets sales.... We will have the momentum of the Olympic Games. We will be targeting specific communities such as schools, churches, and communities in other areas than Rio, because spectators of the Paralympic Games are not international -- they are Brazilians."

Q: Is the political instability, with president Dilma Rousseff facing an impeachment trial, overshadowing the Paralympics?

A: "Obviously we are in a very special moment with the political turmoil but nothing that will affect the Games dramatically. That affects the mood of some people who do not focus on the Games right now."

Q: What will hosting the Paralympics here do for people with disabilities in Brazil?

A: "Sport puts disability into perspective.... With the continuous success of Brazilian athletes and the new generation of athletes coming, I think we have a better understanding. Of course this better understanding and perception has to translate into actions. I see some of them with the transformation of the transport system of the city of Rio... (But) it's not that Rio de Janeiro will be 100 percent accessible, no other city in the world has that."

Q: Do the Paralympics suffer from having too many different categories?

A: "The same principles apply when you split males and females. You have weight categories in boxing, in judo. They cannot compete against each other because it would not be fair. With disabilities, it is the same: a quadriplegic cannot compete with paraplegic in a swimming pool. It is not a fair competition."

Q: What is Brazil's medal target?

A: "We will have a very strong Brazil team. We want to be fifth in the medal table. We were seventh in London, ninth in Beijing."

Q: Could you merge the Olympics and Paralympics?

A: "From the logistic point of view it would be a challenge.... If we merge the Paralympics with the Olympics, we'll have fewer Paralympic athletes because we will have to have fewer sports. I don't see the point to be inside the Olympics."