Olympics: Rio Paralympics toils in face of 'huge job'

The Handball Arena under construction for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Dec 19, 2014.
The Handball Arena under construction for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Dec 19, 2014.PHOTO: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Preparations for the Rio Paralympics in 12 months are going well, except for one serious bump in the road: wheelchair access.

Rio 2016 organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada told AFP on Thursday that making Rio de Janeiro accessible for thousands of disabled athletes and spectators is "a huge job."

The Paralympics, which start September 7, 2016, will last 11 days, featuring 4,350 athletes from 178 countries.

The games are an increasingly high-profile sequel to the bigger Summer Olympics which take place earlier in Rio.

Andrada said that in most respects, preparations are going according to schedule.

"We are on time, on target and on budget with the deliverables," Andrada said of the Paralympics.

But figuring out how to get competitors and fans to the venues remains a major problem. Many sidewalks in Rio are broken, making at best for a rough wheelchair ride, or they have no ramps, meaning the disabled person cannot move more than one block without help.

Access to public transport is spotty to non-existent, while the kind of mass transport required for swift delivery of Paralympic athletes and team members around the city is still missing.

The biggest vehicle currently in Rio with specialized access has a capacity for eight wheelchairs, Andrada said, while just "the Dutch delegation usually brings 150 wheelchair (reliant) people."

"Just to accommodate the athletes, receive the athletes and help them in we have to make an effort," he said.

A promise in Rio de Janeiro's bid to host the games was to build 60 kilometres of wheelchair accessible sidewalk.

"But you have to understand it's not 60 kilometres of accessible sidewalks that will make Rio an accessible city," Andrada said.

"Part of the work we need to do is raising the conscience of the people, creating energy in society to put pressure on the government so they can really invest on that.

"That's the goal."