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The rising popularity of the Paralympic Games and lessons for the future

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The rising popularity of the Paralympic Games and lessons for the future

This year’s Paralympics has sold the most tickets ever, but this has not always been the case.

This year’s Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, has hit a new record by selling the highest number of tickets ever. The 320,000 tickets sold are about 90% of all tickets that were available for 12th Winter Paralympics. 

What is interesting about this is the rise in popularity of the Paralympic Games in the past few years. The Sochi 2014 games sold 316,200 tickets, double the number sold in Torino 2006 (162,974 tickets).

As the International Paralympic Committee president, Andrew Parsons, said, “It is fantastic news that Pyeongchang 2018 has now sold a record number of tickets to the Paralympic Winter Games.”

Interest in the Paralympic games seems to be growing; however, each year has witnessed a great turnaround with tickets being sold slowly at first. At the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, a #FillTheSeats campaign was launched after stadiums went empty for the first events. This included slashing the prices and making efforts to make the games more accessible to the general public.  The campaign was successful and the Rio Games had the second-biggest Paralympic attendance after the London 2012 (the summer games sell more tickets than the Winter Paralympics).

But, what is causing this struggle to get the seats filled?  One reason is that the Paralympic Games have a complexity about them which makes it hard for the general public to understand. Depending on the event, the categories of the athletes are: wheelchair, amputee, cerebral palsy, visually impaired, athletes with intellectual disability and les autres (the others).   For some, this is not as straight forward as watching a game that follows players in wheelchairs only, but people have to watch athletes with a wide range of disabilities.

Another reason might be a historical lack of representation in the Paralympic Games, especially in the Winter Paralympics. In general, the Winter Olympics have commonly been western-centric and focus on European and North American athletes. This trend has been to some extent mirrored in the summer games, which favour countries that provided more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in sport. During the past few years, there has been a wider range of countries represented in the games, making it more inclusive and more attractive to a wider audience.

However, a major reason is due to the lack of media coverage. The Paralympics have come a long way since the first games, in 1960, but there is still a long way to go. Although,  it was eventually relatively successful in terms of ticket sales, the amount of television coverage the Rio Paralympics received was less than ten percent of that for the Olympics despite the Paralympics taking place over more days. Some countries, such as India, had no television coverage at all.

The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics has been a success and the trend seems to be a positive one. As a society, we are beginning to see the Paralympics as the action-packed sports event that it is. This trajectory will surely continue, but it needs to be supported by further improvements to the quantity and quality of media coverage worldwide.   

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018 - 10:43