Big Rio push to drum up attendance

People walk next to the Paralympic symbol at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Sept 2, 2016.
People walk next to the Paralympic symbol at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on Sept 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO • The organisers of the Rio Paralympics are hoping that a late surge of interest will help them to fill seats, stretch budgets and avoid criticism that the event will be remembered as the "neglected Games".

Financial cuts, downgraded facilities, volunteer shortfalls and poor ticket sales have overshadowed the countdown to the opening ceremony on Wednesday, prompting fears that the Paralympics could be even more sparsely attended than last month's Olympics.

However, arriving athletes hope that the atmosphere can be salvaged by a late marketing push.

The Paralympic torch relay, which got underway last Thursday, is seen as the best opportunity to drum up public enthusiasm.

Barely half of the 2.5 million tickets for the 500 medal events have been sold, despite prices as low as 10 reais (S$4).

Donovan Ferreti, the ticketing director of Rio 2016, said he had been encouraged by a pick-up in local demand from Rio residents in the past week.

"We have a long way to go, but we are happy with the last-minute demand," he said. "It's really affordable - cheaper than going to see a movie.

"We are telling people they can have a great time with high-performance competition and have a great day out in the Olympic Park."

Activists said that filling seats was important not just to boost support for competitors, but to maximise the transformative impact of the Paralympics.

Preparations have been plagued by funding problems. Brazil is suffering from the worst recession in decades. Last month, organisers had to scale down venues as a result of a gaping hole in the budget.

The Deodoro Olympic Park, the second-biggest cluster of venues, was partially closed and some events - such as wheelchair fencing - have been relocated to the main Olympic Park in Barra.

Parties have been cancelled, big screens taken down and 1,900 temporary staff laid off. The number of seats has also been reduced - originally the organisers had hoped to sell 3.4 million.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Big Rio push to drum up attendance'. Print Edition | Subscribe