IPC inspectors press Athens on transport for Paralympics

International Paralympic Committee officials, starting a three-day inspection, pressed Athens organizers yesterday to meet deadlines for limiting travel times and improving the city’s poor accessibility for the disabled. The seven-member delegation, headed by IPC President Phil Craven and Vice President Francois Terranova, also reviewed ticket sales for the Sept. 17-28 games. «What we are interested in is shortening the transportation times between the Paralympic village and venues,» IPC spokeswoman Miriam Wilkens told The Associated Press. «(We will) look into how we can do this and to make sure the times they have posted are going to be kept.» Transport in this city of more than 4 million residents is a key problem, with its narrow and congested streets and sidewalks often used as parking spaces. The city has been repeatedly criticized for its poor disability access, prompting the government to budget an estimated $255 million to build ramps, repair sidewalks and improve general conditions. Parliament has also mandated new building codes and provisions for the handicapped. «This law says that until the end of last year they were supposed to have made public buildings accessible and if they haven’t, there will be a fine now,» Wilkens said. She added the city center is still very inaccessible for disabled people. «There is a lot of work still needed, especially with sidewalks and obstacles in the way,» Wilkens said. «We need to see more results now.» She said there may not be enough time to get the city accessible for the Paralympic Games and urged officials to at least fix sidewalks between the two official Paralympic hotels, which are less than a kilometer apart. «They speak about the legacy they want to leave about making Athens accessible and we saw in Barcelona (1992 Paralympics) that it does take time,» Wilkens said. «They have a good starting point.» The scheduled IPC visit follows a January pre-Paralympic test event for boccia. Test events are needed to assess venues so that the organization can make necessary changes before the games. Regarding ticket sales, Wilkens said Athens organizers have sent out tickets to national Paralympic committees throughout the European Union and will now try to push advertising to attract spectators into Paralympic venues. For 10 euros ($13) a spectator can buy a day pass that allows entrance to all Paralympic venues and free transport for that day. «We are expecting (fewer) spectators than in Sydney (2000 Paralympics)… for the reason that the venues are smaller,» Wilkens said. A total of 750,000 visitors are expected for all the days of the games. Other areas of discussion also include venue operations, identity and image of Athens during the Games, security, technology. Wilkens also said 650 doping tests will be performed during the games. The International Paralympic Committee is based in Bonn, Germany.