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Major Budget Cuts, Poor Ticket Sales Will Force Downsizing For Paralympics


The Paralympics are set to begin in Rio on September 7, but the showcase for thousands of disabled athletes faces deep financial trouble. The International Paralympic Committee says Rio's organizing team hasn't raised enough money to fund the competition. Travel grants to poorer countries to help their athletes get to Rio are endangered. Ticket sales are at a paltry 12 percent.

We're joined now by Craig Spence. He's the communications and media director for the International Paralympic Committee. He joins us by Skype from Bonn, Germany. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Spence.

CRAIG SPENCE: No problem.

SIMON: The games will go ahead, but there'll be cuts. How does that affect the athletes?

SPENCE: Well, the games certainly will go ahead on the 7th of September. And although yesterday we announced a number of cuts, what we've tried to do is protect the service levels that every athlete expects at the game. So the cuts are elsewhere in the back of house, and it affects every single stakeholder, apart from the athletes.

SIMON: What kind of cuts?

SPENCE: Well, we - the Rio 2016 workforce will see some cuts, which will save some money. We're also changing one of the venues. We're moving a venue into the Rio Olympic Park because that means that we can effectively dismantle the temporary Olympic Park that has been built to the north of the city.

And we're also reducing some of the media centers. So we have 21 venues for the Paralympic Games. Each has their own media center, and we believe that we can combine some of them. It's not ideal, but it's the situation that we're in, and we'll make the most of it.

SIMON: Are there athletes who won't be able to reach the games because of travel grants - because of no travel grants?

SPENCE: Well, at the moment, none of the travel grants are being paid to the 165 participating countries. Rio 2016 has assured us that they will all be paid next week. We have 10 countries currently who have come to us and said even if the grants are paid, they still may struggle to get to the games. We are working with them to finance them to ensure they get to the games.

We're really confident that the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be the best ever in terms of athletic performance. I mean, we have a long jumper who - he's a single-leg amputee before the knee. He can jump eight meters, 40. That would have won him Olympic gold at the last three editions. He's that good.

SIMON: I've got to tell you, Mr. Spence. We're interviewing you (laughter) because we thought there was a crisis. The way you describe it, there's not.

SPENCE: Well, I think it's in the Paralympic DNA that no matter what the circumstances, we will make the most of what we have. And, yes, this isn't an ideal situation. The Rio 2016 organizing committee hasn't raised sufficient funds. Our priority now is not to look at what's gone wrong here. Our priority is to make the most of what we have.

And we have some money from the mayor and the state-run companies, and we'll make the most of it because that's what the athletes deserve. We know that their performances during the games will change the way people think about disability and cement the Paralympic Games' position as the world's premiere sporting event for driving social inclusion.

SIMON: Well, good luck to you, Mr. Spence.

SPENCE: Thank you.

SIMON: Craig Spence of the International Paralympic Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.