The Sochi Paralympics will be “transformational” for Russia’s attitudes towards disabled people, according to the British president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
Sir Philip Craven was speaking as he arrived in Sochi ahead of the start of the games tomorrow (Friday 6 March).
He compared Russia today with the situation in 1980 when the USSR government refused to host the Paralympics because its leaders said there were no disabled people in their country.
He said: “To be here in Sochi 34 years later for Russia’s first Paralympic Games is a huge achievement in itself and proof that things are changing here for the better.”
Sir Philip, himself a five-time Paralympian in wheelchair basketball, added: “Once the sport starts and people see the amazing feats of endeavour performed by the athletes on snow and on ice, I expect attitudes in this country towards people with an impairment to change for the better too.
“The Paralympics can break down barriers and stereotypes like no other event and I believe these games will be transformational for Russia.
“With a record global TV audience expected to watch the games, I am confident they can also have a wider global impact.”
Sir Philip also referred to events in the Ukraine, which has seen a diplomatic stand-off between Russia and the West after Russian troops entered the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
He said: “The IPC ‘s role in Sochi is to organise, together with the Sochi 2014 organising committee, the best ever Paralympic Winter Games for the athletes who have spent years of their lives training to get here.
“We’re fully aware of what is going on elsewhere and will leave global politics to the politicians.
“We’re monitoring the situation closely and the safety and well-being of athletes and officials is our top priority.”
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Millie Knight has been chosen to carry the flag for the British team at the opening ceremony tomorrow (Friday).
Knight turned 15 on the day she was selected for the ParalympicsGB team, and is competing in alpine ski-ing with her guide Rachael Ferrier.
She said: “This is the best feeling ever! I’m so excited, I can’t wait to carry the flag at the opening ceremony and I’m honoured to be out there representing ParalympicsGB alongside all of the other nations.
“This was such a surprise but I’ll try and make the team proud. I was really excited just to be competing in Sochi and to be going to the opening ceremony so it just keeps getting better and better.”
6 March 2014