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The Paralympic Games are set to open in Pyeongchang. International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons spoke to DW about inclusion, and how the IPC and the IOC differ in their approaches to Russia and doping.
DW: The Paralympic Winter Games are about to open in Pyeongchang. These are your first since being elected IPC president in September. How have the preparations for these Paralympics been going?
Andrew Parsons: The preparations are going well in terms of the operation and actual delivery of the Games. As we saw during the Olympics the South Koreans were able to deliver a great Games and they will deliver great Games... The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is ready and the international federations are ready and over the past winter season we have seen amazing results from the athletes, so we expect a great Winter Games.
The number of spectators at many events at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang was disappointing. Are you concerned that attracting spectators to these Paralympics could be more of a problem this time around due to them being held in South Korea?
We are of course aware of what happened at the Olympics at some of the events, so we are working with the organizing committee, the Korean Paralympic Committee and the various levels of government to ensure that we have the maximum-possible number of people attending the Games at the venues.
While there has been great growth in the number of spectators and television audience in recent years, the Paralympics still lag behind the Olympics. Why do you think this is? Could part of it be the difficulty be the challenge of making the various impairment classifications understandable to the general public?
I don't think this is the biggest problem. Of course we have to make classification understandable, but only in as much as people perceive that the competition is fair. It's very difficult for somebody who turns up at a swimming event to understand the difference between an S9 and an S10, for example. But what people really want to see, is that the people in the starting blocks are all competing on a level playing field.
Inclusion is about providing opportunities
What about the idea of merging the Paralympics with the Olympics, holding them concurrently in the interest of inclusion. Is this a goal of the IPC?
Logistically it would be a nightmare to put 10,500 Olympic athletes together with 4,350 Paralympians (Summer Games) in the same village at the same time. Inclusion sometimes is not about being together, it's about offering the same opportunity. In our view, the model we have now, with the Paralympics coming after the Olympics is the best possible. Because of the logistical challenge I referred to, coming together would probably mean fewer Paralympic events and fewer athletes taking part. I don't think we would be serving our goal of inclusion by doing that, because we would wind up providing fewer opportunities for Paralympic athletes worldwide to compete at the highest level.
A different approach from the IOC
Your predecessor was widely praised for banning Russia from competing at the Rio Games over an alleged system of state-sponsored doping. This time, the IPC has taken a similar stance to the IOC, which allowed 168 Russians to take part in Pyeongchang as "Olympic Athletes from Russia." You are set to allow around 30 carefully screened Russians to compete in Pyeongchang under the banner "Neutral Paralympic Athlete." How significant is the fact that, while the IOC included "Russia" in the name, you have kept it out?
The IOC and the IPC are different organizations and sometimes we take different approaches. The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) is our member and they are suspended. While they are suspended we cannot allow Russian symbols, like the flag or the name at the Games. So something like "Paralympic Athletes from Russia" would be against our own rules, it is something we cannot do. And, as we have used the Neutral Paralympic Athletes team during qualification, it was quite obvious to us that this would be the right choice in terms of naming. It complies with our rules, allows these athletes to compete, while at the same time sending a strong message that - while the RPC has improved a lot - they are now probably one of the top Paralympic committees in the world when it comes to anti-doping policy. But they still haven't met the agreed criteria for reinstatement. So this is in the hands of the Russian federation now.
Two criteria still to be met
You've said that you are allowing the 30 or so athletes to compete in Russia as recognition of the progress Russia has made in improving its anti-doping activities. Are there any thoughts of the IPC lifting Russia's suspension anytime soon?
The situation is very clear; they still haven't met two criteria, one is the acknowledgement of the McLaren Report or the rebuttal of the McLaren report, backed up by evidence; as well as the reinstatement of RUSADA (the Russian anti-doping agency). We need these two elements to occur in order to lift the suspension. All the other criteria the Russian Paralympic Committee have met, but we are just waiting for these two elements.
Brazil native Andrew Parsons, 41, was elected president of the International Paralympic Committee in September, 2017, succeeding Sir Philip Craven, who had held the post for 16 years Parsons previously served as the chairperson of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee and the US Paralympic Committee.
The interview was conducted by Chuck Penfold