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Ireland chief hits out at Paralympic ticket sales

By Adam McKendry

Published 25/08/2016

Speaking out: Derry sprinter Jason Smyth will compete in the Paralympic Games but Liam Harbison, Chief Executive of Paralympics Ireland, has expressed concerns over ticket sales
Speaking out: Derry sprinter Jason Smyth will compete in the Paralympic Games but Liam Harbison, Chief Executive of Paralympics Ireland, has expressed concerns over ticket sales
Liam Harbison

The Chief Executive Officer of Paralympics Ireland, Liam Harbison, has described disappointing ticket sales for the upcoming Paralympic Games in Rio as “a real setback” for the event.

So far the Games have only managed to sell 700,000 tickets, a huge drop from the 2.7million figure of London 2012, with nearly three quarters of tickets bought since the end of the Olympics last weekend.

With the opening ceremony of the event just under two weeks away, organisers are afraid that sports will be held in near-empty stadiums, with reports suggesting that athletes are crowd-funding in order to buy tickets to give to locals.

Harbison has said it’s a huge problem for the Paralympics, but he hopes there will be a surge in sales off the back of the Olympics, and as the Games themselves get closer.

“On the back of an incredible Games in London, where 2.7million tickets were sold, to hear on Friday that only 300,000 were sold, it’s a big setback for the movement,” he said.

“I heard 96,000 tickets were sold by Monday so hopefully there will be a bit of an uplift over the coming days.”

Asked for a competitor comment on the issue, a spokesperson for Paralympics Ireland responded: “In general, our athletes wouldn’t be talking about this.”

But Northern Ireland’s World champion sprinter Jason Smyth, who will compete for Ireland in the Paralympics, has said that the lack of ticket sales does bother him, and he believes that any success the Irish achieve will overshadow poor attendances.

Eglinton, Co Derry, runner Smyth will be aiming for a third successive 100m gold medal after winning in London and Beijing, but he says any Irish victories will make the headlines.

“Obviously you’d love to be competing in a full stadium,” he said. “But if I can win a medal, or if anyone else on the Irish team can win a medal, that’s what’s going to be remembered.

“The amount of people in the stadium won’t be remembered, it’s about the success.”

But for a £60million bail-out, the Games would not have even taken place after it was revealed that Rio’s Paralympic Committee ran out of money.

The massive financial boost, which has come from emergency funding from state and federal governments, has ensured the event will go ahead, but it will be at a reduced capacity.

Some nations have been assured they will receive the compensation for their travel, but have not yet been paid the promised money.

On top of that, many of the venues for the Games, including the Deorodo Olympic Park, have been closed due to a lack of funding, while the workforce has also been reduced.

This hammer blow comes after one of the most controversial Olympic Games in recent history, and has only furthered the belief that Rio was not fit to host the Games.

“When Rio was awarded the Games seven years ago they were awarded the Olympic and Paralympic Games as one,” Harbison said.

“With that they had certain obligations to provide services. It is disappointing that the expectations around the Games that were built up by Rio 2016 simply aren’t being delivered.”

Nevertheless, Harbison is confident that Ireland has enough talent to enjoy a successful Games. While medal estimates may be slightly lower than the 16 won in London, which left them 18th in the medal table, the CEO is confident that they can still do well across the board with Smyth and Glengormley team-mate Michael McKillop top gold hopes.

“We’ve a target of eight medals, that will be very challenging, but fundamentally our main goal is to try and stay in the top 30 on the medal table. To do that we’ll probably need a minimum of four gold medals,” he added.

“We certainly have the athletes among the 46 that can deliver if everything goes right on the day, but it’s sport, so anything can happen.”

Belfast Telegraph

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