Selling the Paralympic Games as an elite sporting event

Paralympians at Olympic village
Image caption Athletes from 116 countries are competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Ticket sales indicate that the London 2012 Paralympic Games will be the biggest event of its kind, but the suspicion is that many people are going simply because they could not get tickets for the Olympic Games themselves.

But that does not worry Jane Jones at the British Paralympic Association.

"People may come because they just want to go to the venues," she says.

"They may come because they missed out on getting tickets to the Olympics."

She also notes that people may go along because it is actually cheaper to go to the Paralympics.

"All those [reasons] are fine by me as long they leave having understood and appreciated the quality of the sport that they will see," she says.

"And I remain confident that they will."

Changing perceptions

The mainstream Olympics is a well-established event with an enormous profile, whereas there are particular challenges to get people interested in going to see the Paralympics.

"It is easy to sell tickets for the Olympics - or the test event as we like to call it in our office," Mrs Jones says.

She explains that everybody understands what the Olympics are and that they have a very clear memory of the event in their minds, largely from seeing it on television over many years.

"But the Paralympics is something different and you have to approach it differently," she says.

"You have to explain to people what it is they are going to see and we have worked very closely with Locog (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) around their ticket messaging," she says.

"They are responsible for the ticket sales, but we worked with them to define what makes the Paralympics different from the Olympic Games."

The event is being sold as an elite sporting competition to attract sports fans.

Right balance

With the Olympic Games, people see Usain Bolt, the fastest human on the planet, or see the person who can jump the furthest or the highest - the supreme achievers.

"People will redefine what they believe to be achievement once they have actually seen the Paralympics, because the Paralympics is about being the best that you can be, and ultimately that is the same as the Olympics," Mrs Jones insists.

"Furthermore, we don't just have one 100m race, we have several 100m races for athletes with different impairments," she adds.

Mainstream television programmes have been promoting the Paralympics and athletes such as the-then 13-year-old swimmer Ellie Simmonds, who won two gold medals at Beijing, are becoming household names.

"The South African double amputee, Oscar Pistorius, performed on the Olympic track and has done a phenomenal job of driving it into people's consciousness that this is elite sport," she says.

The stories behind the athletes are important in both the Olympic and Paralympic context.

"What we do have though in the Paralympcs is to ensure that we don't just focus on the story, that we do get the balance right between the back story and the sporting performance," says Mrs Jones.

She does not want to promote the Paralympics as an event for people who have merely overcome some sort of tragedy in their lives.

"We want to promote it as something where they are elite athletes," she adds.

"They may have stories that actually on a human level are far more dramatic than some of the Olympians, but at the end of the day, they just want to be judged as athletes," she says.

Medal targets

Along wtih sponsorship and broadcasting rights, ticket sales are an important part of the financial equation for major sporting events and Mrs Jones is thrilled that the stadia will be packed to the rafters.

"That will be a first for Paralympic sport," she says.

"I was in Atlanta, and I was lucky enough to witness some phenomenal performances by the British team, including people like Tanni Grey-Thompson and David Weir who have become very well-known within their sporting field since then," she says.

"But the sad thing was that they were doing that in empty stadia. There was nobody there apart from a handful of friends and family to cheer them on."

The British Paralympic team returned from Beijing in 2008 with 102 medals - 42 of them gold.

The team, which finished second in the overall medal tally in the last three Games, is expected to land in second place again this year - the target for 2012 is 103 medals.

The target is set by the government's funding body UK Sport, which has backed the 2012 campaign with a record £49m ($78m) of funding.

Organisers have revealed the event is on track to become the first-ever sold out Paralympic Games in the event's 52-year history.

British Paralympic Association chief executive Tim Hollingsworth says: "Paralympics GB is going into these Games better prepared than ever before and we are all ready to give everything to achieve our target of second in the medals table.

"Our athletes will be competing in full venues where winning medals in front of an excited home crowd will give us a great platform to help shift perceptions of Paralympic sport and ensure that our athletes get the recognition they deserve."

The British Olympic team had been set a minimum target of 48 medals for London 2012, but well surpassed that figure - finishing with 65 medals, including 29 gold.

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