Parapan Games could create household names
TORONTO — Hosting the largest Parapan Am Games ever could turn athletes with disabilities into household names and bolster the Paralympic movement in Canada, some involved in the upcoming competition said Saturday.
As the Pan Am Games entered their final weekend, organizers set their sights on the Parapan Am Games, which will see more than 1,600 athletes compete in 15 sports between Aug. 7 and 15.
It’s the first time the Games will be broadcast on television, a milestone that will “change the game,” said Rob Snoek, a former Paralympian who will cover the event for the CBC.
Seeing Parapan Am athletes compete can challenge preconceptions about disabilities and inspire the next generation of sports stars, Snoek said.
“When you watch a spectator see their first wheelchair basketball game and see somebody fall out of their chair and get right back in in two seconds and go right back on the floor, there’s almost like this sense of respect and awe that goes through them,” he said.
“And when they go to the track and they see a person who in everyday life would be considered disabled and they might feel sorry for them, all of a sudden they see them do something incredible... it removes a lot of barriers in people’s own minds and it opens a lot of eyes.”
Chelsey Gotell, a Paralympic and Parapan Am champion volunteering with the Canadian team, said the spotlight could help boost Paralympic sports’ mass appeal, like it did after the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
“As a Canadian athlete, I’m jealous of that, and that’s something I hope to be able to spread here in Canada,” she said.
Canada is sending its largest team ever to battle it out on home ground — 213 competitors, including 11 guides for visually impaired athletes, she said.
The team is aiming for a top-three spot to set the stage for next summer’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. All Parapan Am sports are qualifiers for the Paralympics.
Organizers, meanwhile, said they hope the excitement over the Pan Am Games carries over to the Parapan Am Games. More than a million tickets were sold for the Pan Am Games despite a sluggish start.
Saad Rafi, CEO of the organizing committee, said Parapan Am ticket sales are “pretty robust” two weeks ahead of the event and the men’s wheelchair rugby final is already sold out. Wheelchair basketball is also expected to be popular.
For the first time, an audio guide will be offered to visually impaired spectators at the Parapan Am opening and closing ceremonies, as well as three sports.
Games venues also meet or surpass accessibility standards, organizers said. In most venues, more than one per cent of seating is wheelchair-accessible, they said.
Entrances, washrooms, concession stands and medical services are also accessible, and accessible transportation options are available, they said.
Canada’s Jamal Murray tries to keep the ball in bounds during the fourth quarter of the men’s gold-medal game against Brazil at the Pan Am Games Saturday in Toronto. Brazil took the gold with an 86-71 win. Canada trailed by as much as 25 points and battled back to within six, but Brazil stood firm. With the silver, Canada produced its best basketball result in Pan Am Games history. Its previous top finish at the Games was fourth in 1983.