Para­pan Games could cre­ate house­hold names

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - FOOTBALL - By Paola Loriggio

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.

JULIO CORTEZ / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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