Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

Rio 2016 Budget Fiasco Threatens Paralympic Athletes’ Ambitions

  • A third of participants could miss the Games without funding
  • Paralympic head in Brasilia to put pressure on government

Athletes representing more than 50 countries could miss the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro if organizers fail to deliver promised funds for travel, according to the spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee.

Facing severe budget constraints, Rio 2016 organizers have delayed the payment of about $8 million in travel costs for Paralympics delegations to the Games, which begin Sept. 7. The news comes as interest in the Paralympics is growing: after success in London and in Beijing, Rio’s event is scheduled to be broadcast live in more countries than ever, including in the U.S. for the first time.

Philip Craven, the IPC’s head, has traveled to Brasilia to demand Brazil’s government keep the commitments it made when the country won the right to host the games. “Our president is there to try to highlight to them that they bid for two games and they have to pay for two games,” said IPC spokesman Craig Spence.

Rio’s mayor offered to allocate 150 million reais ($47 million) to help solve the Paralympics crisis, but a judge blocked the payments, demanding that organizers publish complete accounts before the cash can be released. The mayor said Monday that his office has lodged an appeal.

Maria Andrada, a spokesman for Rio 2016, said he was confident the money needed to fund athlete transport will be paid by the end of the month. 

Budget Cuts

The original Paralympics budget has already been cut twice, with a third round of cost-cutting underway -- one that will directly affect the 4,300 athletes expected to participate. Media centers and transportation for journalists have been scrapped. Now athletes may also have reduced transport and worse food.

“It will have a big impact on all those attending the games: spectators, journalists and athletes,” Spence said.

Rio 2016 organizers haven’t provided a cost breakdown for the Paralympics, and the IPC says organizers have been vague about the size of the deficit, according to Spence. “Each time they speak to us the hole has gotten bigger,” he said.

Part of those games are funded by specific ticket sales and sponsorship. Andrada said sales have been poor, even though tickets cost as little as 10 reais. Additionally, some top Olympic sponsors such as Bridgestone, Dow and McDonald’s aren’t involved in the Paralympics, according to the games website.

Andrada denied claims that cash earmarked for the Paralympics have been spent to deal with crises at the Olympics like fixing the water at the diving pool that turned green, and infrastructure issues at the Athletes Village.

"We need to make sure we put on a great Paralympics -- that’s our commitment," Andrada said.

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