NEWS

Paralympic Games whet growing global appetite for world-class disability sport

More and more broadcasters across the world, especially in Europe and Asia, are putting the Paralympics into the spotlight, but the major sporting tournament for people with disabilities remains off screen in the world’s biggest television market – the United States. The BBC «made history» on Sunday in broadcasting for the first time ever live coverage of the Paralympics, Dave Gordon, director for major events at Britain’s public broadcaster, said. «There is a clear audience appetite for world-class disability sport,» he said. Audiences exceed 2 million viewers, «a perfectly respectable figure,» Gordon said. The BBC has sent a 100-strong crew to Athens to provide Paralympic coverage on its nationwide BBC2 channel for around 90 minutes a day. «People are coming to grips with and love Paralympic sports,» said International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Phil Craven. In 1996, the Atlanta Paralympic Games broadcast rights were sold for the first time. This year, the Athens Paralympics broadcast package is valued at $1.5 million (1.2 million euros), according to IPC figures. The IPC spends all of that to cover a large part of the Games’ transmission costs, which total $3.5 million. «We are very disappointed about the fact that US networks decided not to buy the rights,» Miriam Wilkens, media director of the IPC, told AFP. According to Wilkens, the US networks turned down the rights, citing a combination of cost and supposed lack of viewers’ interest. «We believe there is a broad public that would like coverage. We have e-mails coming to us from both athletes and viewers in the United States, asking us where they could see the Games,» the IPC official said. Negotiations are currently under way with the US Outdoor Live cable network to air a summary of the Paralympics in November. «We hope that the US networks will be more proactive in the next Games,» Wilkens said. «I think that if the BBC is successful, then a US commercial entity will enter,» said Steve Goldberg, a US journalist covering the Paralympics. «Interest in the States is building,» he said. «It’s so embarrassing when you see there are no Americans at all,» said Gordon. Other broadcasters across the world, mainly on public television in China, Germany, Spain, and Greece, also attach greater importance to the Paralympics. «There is live coverage every day. Athletes winning medals make headlines in news bulletins back home,» a Chinese journalist said. Television viewers are not just people with disabilities. «We know from audience research for the Sydney (2000 Paralympics) that the able-bodied enjoy watching the Paralympics as they enjoy watching other sports,» said Gordon. Paralympics’ television ratings even beat similar high-profile athletics events where able-bodied stars competed. «During the weekend, the Paralympics even scored higher ratings than the Monaco Athletics Grand Prix,» said Gordon. «You can’t fool the audiences. The viewer knows the Paralympics matter because that’s when athletes win medals. In other competitions, it’s just athletes earning money.»