By Melina Fleury Franco
The Barra Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro hosted 170,000 people on Sept. 10, more people than on the busiest day of the 2016 Olympic Games, which only totaled 157,000. What were all these people watching? The 2016 Paralympic Games, which sold 2.1 million tickets as a result of a broad social media campaign and low ticket prices.
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games made a comeback a week before the 15th anniversary of the games, as ticket sales were so low that the Rio de Janeiro city government thought about budget cutting. In the Paralympic games, over 4,000 disabled athletes competed in 22 sports and 83 countries scored at least one medal, the most of any Paralympic Games.
But then the head of marketing of London’s 2012 Paralympic Games, Greg Nugent, started a Twitter campaign called #FillTheSeats, encouraging people to provide tickets to young people and disabled children to go watch the Rio games. The campaign had the support of the band Cold Play and was endorsed by the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee. The committee dropped ticket prices to as low as $3. With the new strategy, about 1.8 million tickets were sold in a week.
The cariocas (the Rio de Janeiro natives) attended the Paralympics in droves and made tourists and athletes feel very welcome in the city of the “Girl from Ipanema.” Phillip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee, announced that the cariocas and the people of Brazil would win the Paralympic Order award, which is the highest honor given by the Paralympic Committee.
Besides the passionate and loud fans, the Rio Paralympic Games included 4,350 athletes, set 210 world records and involved more than 160 participating countries, including first time participants: Aruba, Congo, Malawi, Somali, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo, along with the refugee team. Also, a canoe sprint and triathlon event made their debuts as Paralympic sports. Brazil remained the only country to win gold medals for soccer for the visually impaired. The Brazilian team hasn’t lost a medal since the sport first debuted in Athens 2004. They beat Iran 1-0 in the final and scored gold.
“I knew we were going to hold a beautiful party; however it overcame all my expectations,” said Brazilian English teacher Carolina Daia, who attended games in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. “It left me feeling extremely proud of my country. I had the opportunity to attend a soccer match in Brasília, Brazil vs. Iraq, and a wheelchair rugby match in Rio, Sweden vs. Great Britain. I believe everybody had the same feeling I had, excitement. The crowd in the arenas was supportive, energetic, enthusiastic.”
The Paralympic Games also didn’t fall short behind the Olympic Games when it came to the quality of the competitions. Daniel Dias, Brazilian swimming idol, became the most successful male Paralympic swimmer of all time, with a total of 24 Paralympic medals.
The athletes also impressed the audience. During the visually impaired 1500m, the top four finishers had better finishing times than Olympic gold medalist Matt Centrowitz.
Despite being the third largest sporting event in the world, the Paralympic Games gets way less media coverage than the Olympic Games. The media coverage of the Paralympics has improved in the last few years, but there is still a long way to go. The opening ceremony wasn’t broadcast live even in Brazil. According to the International Paralympics Committee, 30 percent more countries broadcast the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016 than in London 2012. The IPC said the games were covered in 158 countries. The prediction so far is that Rio 2016 broke audience records globally, with more than four billion people tuning in, even though there are no official records yet.
London’s Channel 4 broadcast 700 hours of live programing during the Paralympics, contrasting with the 66 hours shown by U.S. NBC and NBCSN – less than 1 percent of the time dedicated for the Olympics. With almost half of UK television viewers watching the Paralympic Games, Channel 4 closed a new deal with IPC to cover the London 2017 Para Athletic Championships, 2018 Winter Paralympics and Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
It is clear that both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games were warmly welcomed into Brazil by its population, and especially the cariocas.