Race News

Dame Sarah Storey: I wasn’t surprised to hear about Paralympic budget cuts, lessons needs to be learnt

We spoke to the eleven time Paralympic Gold medalist about the complications facing Rio para-athletes

News broke over the weekend that the Rio Paralympic events were facing budget cuts – travel arrangements were in jeopardy and events due to be moved to new venues, allowing for Deodoro Park to be dismantled.

For athletes for whom their performance at the 2016 Paralympic games has been their sole focus over the last four years, that news could hardly feel welcome. The culmination of all your dreams, made vulnerable by organisers who have failed to sell tickets or to budget for your events, announced less than three weeks before the opening ceremony on September 7.

Assorted solutions have been sought – vice-chairman of the British Olympic Association, Sir Hugh Robertson has suggested that the IOC (International Olympics Committee) should help the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) financially as they work with flailing Rio organisers. Other suggestions have included interested parties around the world purchasing the relatively inexpensive tickets – of which 12 per cent have been sold – and gifting them to families in Rio who can’t afford them.

Dame Sarah Storey: No Prize Funds in Para-Cycling World Champs but Integration Comes First

We were lucky enough to catch up with decorated Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey, to find out what she thought of the cuts and how she expected them to affect the events. Over her career, the reigning Paracycling Road World Champion has collected a grand total of 11 Gold medals in the pool and on the bike. With two weeks to go until the Games begin, now is no doubt a busy period – to say the least – but Dame Sarah still took some time to shed some light on the situation and share her views.

“The Rio Games have been fraught with challenges from the start. I was holding my breath for no further issues.”

Born without a functioning left hand, Storey has competed as a para-athlete throughout her career. She wasn’t particularly surprised to hear there were to be cuts to the Games – telling us: “Personally I am not surprised to hear of this happening. The Rio Games have been fraught with challenges from the start, most notably with the Velodrome construction and then a great many issues in getting the Paracycling Road Race courses to a standard that is suitable for a Paralympic Games. Initially the organisers just wanted what was effectively a circuit race on the seafront and even now, not all classes have a truly challenging road circuit for their events. I was holding my breath for no further issues, but if there was going to be one, it was going to be a financial one given the situation of the country.”

The Rio Paracycling Road Race courses vary – some are shorter than athletes would like

In terms of last minute solutions to help fill the funding gap, Storey does support the idea of British and overseas viewers buying tickets for Brazilian families – she says: “This would allow local people to attend an event they have apparently been priced out of. If this happened it could be the best way to include the local people inside whose city we are guests.”

It’s hardly the first time there have been complications – though the apparently impeccable organisation of the London Olympics and Paralympics might make for a stark contrast – Storey says: “It isn’t unusual for an away Games to create challenges with things like transport or food at venues. For athletes who had their first Games in London, they will need the most support for the change in Rio, but I have had events with an hour long bus trip – the Beijing Road course – and the organisers cancelled our hotel rooms at the venue and so we had to stay in the Village and travel each day. So these things have been experienced before and there will be a plan put in place to minimise the stress.”

The good news is that the British Paralympic Association have been incredibly clear that they will support their athletes, doing their upmost to ensure that they are able to perform at their very best – as they have trained to do. Storey says: “It may be that our travelling supporters notice the budget cuts more than us if venue services are cut.”

Dame Sarah Storey celebrates in London. Image: British Paralympic Association

She adds: “Great Britain has long been the best supported team at the Paralympic Games. Regardless of external challenges, ParalympicsGB works tirelessly throughout the entire cycle to ensure the athletes are at the core of their preparations. Creating a smooth ride in challenging circumstances is something they will be prepared for and they will do their upmost to ensure athletes are well briefed. If we need to allow extra time for transport, or we need to be aware of other logistics that won’t be as smooth as they have been previously then ParalympicsGB will be one step ahead of other nations in getting this info.”

“Lessons will need to be learned…There is not going to be any money left to pay a fine”

Though the IOC and IPC are left looking for ways to deal with the shortcomings, it seems the blame lies largely with organisers at Rio – but Storey doesn’t believe those failings will come back to haunt them via a fine or otherwise. She just hopes that the experience will help to inform future venue choices: “Lessons will need to be learned, as they were after Atlanta in 1996 which was the last time the Paralympics had major issues with budget and services. After those Games the bid process required to the same organising committee to deliver both Games, to prevent miscommunications and other service issues. Whether or not Rio will be in breach of their Host City Contract will remain to be seen, but ultimately what sanctions can be imposed after the Games have happened. There is not going to be any money left to pay a fine.”

“Perhaps the next step in the bid process is for the budgets for the Paralympics to be ring fenced and held securely so that they can’t be misused”

In terms of future solutions, she says: “Perhaps the next step in the bid process is for the budgets for the Paralympics to be ring fenced and held securely so that they can’t be misused. However in the case of services that benefit both Games, like the renovations to the Olympic Village, it would be difficult to draw an exact line in the sand.”

Difficult as it may be, changes clearly do need to be made to prevent last minute panic attacks from organisers over an event that dedicated para-athletes have been preparing themselves for, for four years or more. Regardless, we’re pleased to hear that the British Paralympic Association are clearly on the ball and trusted by the athletes they support. We look forward to seeing ParalympicsGB performing at the top level from September 7.

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