let the games begin

Letter from Rio: Anticipation builds as Paralympic spirit overshadows financial crisis

Organisers have been forced to overcome considerable obstacles but the Paralympic Games get underway tonight.

– Ryan Bailey reports from Rio de Janeiro 

IT WOULD BE an understatement to suggest the build-up to these Paralympic Games has been shrouded in uncertainty.

The 2016 edition gets underway in Rio’s iconic Maracana Stadium later this evening against a backdrop of a financial crisis.

2016 Paralympic Games Previews The Irish swimming team after yesterday's training session. SPORTSFILE SPORTSFILE

Between ticket sales, venue closures and funding cuts, the International Paralympic Committee has found itself in a state of emergency.

As recently as three weeks ago, organisers were forced to downplay genuine concerns over whether staging the Games was still financially possible and whether we’d all be here at all.

But the show has gone on amid a host of cutbacks and the air of uncertainty has been tempered somewhat by a tangible sense of anticipation.

The journey in from Rio’s international airport, no longer than 30 minutes, only heightens the feeling that the city has finally bought into the Games.

The Rio 2016 slogan, ‘A New World’, is emblazoned on every street post, toll booth operators sport Paralympic t-shirts and the Olympic Stadium stands tall over the sprawling favelas.

Tonight’s opening ceremony will mark the start of a sporting carnival but one which is very much open and accessible to the locals.

While many of the Olympic venues were left sparsely populated due to the inordinately priced tickets, this time around organisers have copped it. Prices have been slashed to as low as 10 real (2.50 Euro) for some events with much of it on course to be a sell-out.

A surge in ticket sales and a sudden spike in interest levels means this Paralympics promises to be much more than just the after show. It’s the least the athletes deserve.

Rio Paralympics Brazilian judo gold medalist Rafaela Silva and Tomas Magalhaes with the Paralympic torches yesterday. Mauro Pimentel Mauro Pimentel

2016 Rio Paralympic Games Preview Package The Olympic Stadium. Mike Egerton Mike Egerton

Caught in political and economic crises, Rio always had a hard act to follow in matching the atmosphere and sporting spectacle of London but slowly the sport-mad natives are buying into it.

Even after three flights and a journey spanning 24 hours, you can’t but be energised by the prospect of what is to come.

From an Irish perspective, there is much to look forward to over the next 10 days of competition and Jason Smyth most certainly remains the headline act.

Labelled the ‘Usain Bolt of the Paralympics’, it speaks volumes of his profile that the double gold medallist from four years ago was put up for a press conference by the IPC for the world’s media yesterday. He is big news.

We’ll see Smyth on the track on Thursday for his T13 100m heats but before that swimmer Ailbhe Kelly will be the first of Ireland’s 48 athletes in action.

2016 Paralympic Games Previews Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth. SPORTSFILE SPORTSFILE

2016 Paralympic Games Previews The Irish swimmers enjoy their training in the pool. SPORTSFILE SPORTSFILE

Paralympics Ireland have set their medal target at eight for the Games — half of what was won in 2012 — but this is a team containing a mixture of youth, experience and genuine medal contenders.

Smyth spoke yesterday of how he would love to defend his title on the second day of the Games to set the tone for the rest of his team-mates and hopefully provide the platform for a memorable week-and-a-half for the Irish out here in Rio.

At this stage, however, we’re all just looking forward to the athletes taking centre stage and for all the talking about ticket sales and funding cuts to be put to bed.

Let the Games begin, and here’s hoping for a successful one.

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The Paralympic Games takes place between 7 and 18 September. Follow The42′s coverage from Rio here.

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