Sir Philip Craven MBE, IPC (International Paralympic Committee) President, writes exclusively for SportBusiness International.
You can already tell that the 2014 winter Paralympics have had a monumental impact on the host country.
Moscow didn’t stage the 1980 Paralympic Games as the USSR government said there were no people with an impairment in the country. Thirty-four years later and Russia is staging the biggest winter Paralympics ever, and is a signatory of the UN (United Nations) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – that is certainly some progress and proof of a country willing, and wanting, to change.
When the IOC (International Olympic Committee) awarded Sochi the winter Olympics and Paralympics in July 2007, nothing was built. Seven years later, a number of barrier-free and accessible state-of-the-art facilities have been created; they are inclusive for all, and will benefit users for years to come.
The IPC Accessibility Guide – a document designed to facilitate the extensive demand on accessible infrastructure, service provision and operations that hosting a Paralympic Games bring – has acted as a key reference for organisers during this unprecedented building project.
In 2010, Russian authorities also launched their own extensive accessibility programme that was connected with a new federal law concerning social care for disabled people. This outlined over 1,800 key areas and places that needed to be improved ahead of the Games, and though many new venues were built for competitions at the Paralympics, the huge infrastructure project also included transport hubs, pedestrian routes and educational institutions. In my view, the infrastructure Sochi has created is a blueprint for the rest of Russia and I sincerely hope it is now rolled out across the whole country.
The accessibility programme also safeguards the rights of people with an impairment by making everyday activities more accessible. The programme’s measures include increasing the quantity of subtitles on public TV, building inclusive and accessible schools, sports facilities and transportation infrastructure.
By 2015, Russia hopes that 45 per cent of public and transportation facilities will be accessible to people with an impairment; it is fair to say none of this would have happened had Sochi not won the right to host the Games.
Despite this seven-year transformation, I believe the greatest change is still to come in Russia.
Since the first Paralympics in 1960, through their amazing feats of endeavour, athletes have developed a track record for contributing towards a more equitable and inclusive society. I expect the same to happen in Russia as a result of Sochi 2014.
The Games will be transformational for the lives of the 13 million Russians with an impairment, with athletes acting as the biggest catalysts to this change by helping to break down barriers and challenge existing stereotypes.
Seeing is believing, and for those who have watched the Paralympics, TV pictures of a blind athlete or sit-skier racing downhill at over 100-kilometres-per-hour will certainly make them rethink what they believe a person with an impairment can achieve.
Even before London staged the Paralympic Games in 2012, it was widely acknowledged that Britain was one of the world’s leading countries in profiling para-athletes and having positive attitudes towards people with an impairment.
Despite this, there were still seismic shifts in perceptions and stereotypes because of the Paralympic Games. Research conducted soon after the 2012 closing ceremony showed that one in three people changed their attitudes of people with an impairment as a consequence of the London Games. A further 65 per cent of people agreed the Paralympics were a breakthrough in the way people with an impairment were viewed, up from 40 per cent before the Games.
These results highlighted that the Games had an immense impact on millions of people in Britain. What excites me most about Sochi 2014 is that in Russia the starting point, in terms of attitudes and perceptions of people with an impairment, is much further back than it was in Britain. Therefore, the 2014 Games can potentially have an even greater impact given Russia’s population of 143 million.