2020 Paralympics will be biggest yet: Craig Spence

January 17, 2020 - 16:54

TEHRAN - Craig Spence, the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) chief marketing and communications officer, says that Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be spectacular and possibly the biggest yet.

Tokyo 2020 could also be the first Games to sell-out before the Opening Ceremony with demand for tickets like nothing the IPC organizers have experienced before.

In an exclusive interview with Tehran Times, the IPC top official said that they have undertaken a lot of work in recent years to raise the Games.

Tehran Times: The Paralympic movement has improved dramatically over the past years, ensuring equal rights for those with disabilities. The Paralympics has grown from 400 athletes from 23 countries in 1960 to 4,328 athletes from 159 nations in 2016.

What is your predication for Tokyo 2020 and the upcoming Games as well?

Craig Spence: I think the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be spectacular and possibly our biggest yet.  The qualification process in all 22 sports is ongoing but we are aiming for 4,350 athletes from around 165 countries.  In addition to this we are expecting our biggest ever global TV audience with a cumulative 4.25 billion people set to watch the Games in more than 160 countries. Tokyo 2020 could also be the first Games to sell-out before the Opening Ceremony with demand for tickets like nothing we have experienced before.

Historically, persons with disabilities have been on the edges of Japanese society due to a feeling of over-protection. Happily, the Paralympics Games are changing this, and growing awareness is shifting attitudes in the right direction.

These attitudes will change much more once the Games begin and I know the performances of Para athletes will open peoples’ eyes and minds. Change starts with sport and thanks to the Paralympics Japanese people will start to understand that persons with disabilities can do far more than they thought possible, not only can they compete, they can work, have fun, travel and lead full lives just like anyone else.

The Paralympics have come a long way from its humble beginnings as a rehabilitation program for the war veterans. Now, 60 years after the inauguration, what is the long-term goals for the Games?

You are right. The Paralympic Movement and Paralympic Games have come a long way since the 1960 Games in Rome, Italy.

As part of our strategic plan, our objective for the Games is to ensure it showcases the outstanding capabilities of persons with disabilities, stimulates the creation of truly inclusive societies with accessible environments, promotes safe and fair participation and inspires physical activity by all.

We want to maximize the Games experience for all stakeholders, starting with the athletes. Competing at the Games should be the pinnacle of their careers. We want to broaden the number of countries that take part and create opportunities for athletes with varying types of impairment.

By further increasing the global reach of the Games, we will amplify the impact, legacy and value of the Games. We want to showcase the outstanding impact the Games have on the host country and around the world in transforming cities, lives and societies.

A large number of people, behind the scenes, have helped the Para sports to improve in the years, given the fact that it’s something like philanthropic mission. But in the recent years, NPC have penned the big deals with Agitos, Toyota, Samsung, BP and Visa and I think it is both good and bad. As a person who works as IPC marketing manager, how do you keep the balance between two? Not afraid of turning into a money-making industry and losing its primary goal?

We are where we are today because of the work of the amazing volunteers and administrators who helped establish the Paralympic Movement both nationally and internationally and this will always be the case.

The investment we have seen in recent years from commercial partners and broadcasters is hugely positive as it has benefited the Movement at all levels and sped up our growth process.

There is no doubt that there is a direct correlation between the investment coming in and the rapid improvement in athletic performances and greater reach of the Paralympic Movement.

Our sponsors help us communicate the Paralympic Movement to far greater audiences, reaching billions around the world. And when our message is that Change Starts with Sport and our desire is to make for a more inclusive world through Para sport, this can only be a good thing.

Iran is a heavyweight in the Para sports as the country has the most decorated Paralympic sports team, sitting volleyball. The Iranian Paralympians are under extreme pressure for the U.S. sanctions and their preparations are not going well. Is there any way to help the Iranian committee to facilitate the process for the preparation as the country is going to reduce its athletes in the Games?

The IPC is always keen to separate out sport and politics and we hope NPC Iran can best prepare its athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games regardless of the circumstance it currently faces.

The strongest ever Paralympian, Siamand Rahman, could be a role model for those with disabilities in the world. He is like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt in Olympic Games. Have you any further plans to introduce new Para athletes like Siamand and Morteza Mehrzad in sitting volleyball?

Pretty much every athlete who competes in Para sport is a role model and the IPC has undertaken a lot of work in recent years to raise the global profile of several leading international athletes, including the world’s strongest Paralympian Siamand Rahman and archer Zarah Nemati.

We are currently recruiting 17 global ambassadors to support our promotion of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and have many exciting plans to further promote athletes ahead of the Tokyo 2020.

Interview by Masoud Hossein

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