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First Person: Phil Craven

International Paralympic Committee president to get first look at Whistler

The International Paralympic Committee will visit Whistler this weekend for the first time since the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games were awarded.

The delegation will be led by Phil Craven a five time Paralympian in wheelchair basketball. He has been the president of the IPC since 2001 and previously has held several positions with the International Olympic Committee.

This weekend he will tour the venue sites in Whistler, which will host all the Paralympic events. They include alpine skiing, ice sledge hockey, Nordic skiing and wheelchair curling.

The Paralympic Games have always been held in the same year as the Olympic Games. Since the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games and the Albertville 1992 Winter Paralympic Games they have taken place at the same venues as the Olympics.

Pique Newsmagazine

reached Craven in Europe to explore the hosting of the Paralympics in Whistler.

Pique: What impact will hosting the Paralympic Games in such a small geographical area have on the event? Some paralympians have told me that it will be unique as it will allow athletes from different disciplines to watch colleagues without having to travel for hours to do so.

Phil Craven: All Paralympic sport competitions will be held in Whistler and these Games therefore have potential to become a very compact event, I think that the Paralympians that you have spoken to are right – athletes will have the possibility to attend other sports and become part of the Whistler community. We believe that Whistler will give the Games a more intimate feeling for the athletes, the spectators, basically all involved, seeing that it is a smaller urban centre. I am sure that many athletes will take the opportunity to watch other sports and to cheer on their countrymen and women. The Opening Ceremony will take place in Vancouver, and we look forward to keeping the Vancouver community involved, also during competitions in Whistler.

Pique: I believe this is the first time Canada has hosted the winter Paralympics. What are your hopes for what the Games will do for athletes, and all of those with disabilities, in Canada and beyond?

PC: Yes, it is the first time that Canada is hosting the Paralympic Winter Games. In 1976, Toronto hosted the Paralympic Summer Games, so Canada does have some Paralympic Games experience.

The Paralympic Games always augment awareness for persons with a disability, demonstrating to the host city and the world that athletes with a disability are elite athletes, achieving results close to or, in some cases, even better than able-bodied elite athletes. At the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Paralympics, Paralympian skiers descended the same slopes as Olympians, with speeds of more than 100 km/h. Michael Milton, a single above the knee amputee from Australia, has reached the speed of 198.68 km/h.

The Paralympic Games do not just inspire other athletes with a disability to aim higher, they can also inspire persons with a disability to start practising sport, they inspire and leave spectators in awe and also give the general population a different view of the capabilities of persons with a disability, breaking down barriers, reservations and changing perspectives. The Paralympics also leave a legacy for all persons with a disability in the form of a more accessible city, be it ramps for the sidewalks, accessible bathrooms, busses, trains, sporting venues, tourist sites, etc.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) works very closely with the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), who is doing an excellent job supporting one of the largest Paralympic Games teams, both for Summer and Winter Games. The CPC has done a lot of hard work, launched programs like the Heroes & Mentors Program, for which Paralympians are motivational speakers, and the Canada Paralympic Schools Program, a free on-line educational resource. We expect that the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics will also have some benefit to the CPC and their work. Patrick Jarvis, president of the CPC, is also a member of the Vancouver 2010 Board of Directors, so we are confident that the Paralympic Winter Games are well looked after, also from within the organizing committee.

Pique: Is the Canadian government doing enough to support athletes with disabilities in Canada? What is support like in other parts of the world for Paralympic athletes? And what is your reaction to Canada's Own the Podium program when it comes to supporting Canadian athletes?

PC: The local, provincial and federal governments are very supportive of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games and Whistler is very enthusiastic about their role in the Games. The Vancouver City Council has two members with a disability and are very strong advocates of the Paralympic Games. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC) is a good role model for future organizing committees. They incorporate photos of Paralympians and Olympians in their promotional work, have a Barrier Free Consultant who is working on both Paralympic and Olympic issues related to accessibility and the entire VANOC team, including VANOC CEO John Furlong, continues to emphasize both Games. VANOC was also the first organizing committee to include "Paralympic" in their official name.

2010 LegaciesNow is an excellent initiative of the Province of British Columbia and VANOC, which works together with community-based organizations to develop and support participants and athletes of all levels , from grass-roots to elite. The Playground to Podium program introduces youth and communities to the joy of sport and physical activity and provides promising young athletes with the tools and services they need to develop.

The support given to Paralympians varies from country to country. Some have come a long way, and Canada is certainly one of them. Other examples are Japan, Australia, Great Britain, etc. At the Paralympics, we do not have as many professionals as at the Olympics. Most of the athletes are amateurs. This does not mean that they are not elite athletes – they are. They just have more barriers to overcome: training time, financial issues, etc. Many have to take time off from work to be able to train. However, with the growing awareness and recognition of the Paralympics worldwide, I believe that it is becoming easier for athletes to find sponsors and to receive acknowledgement from their employer, which might allow for more convenient work time-schedules.

Pique: This will be your first visit to the site of the 2010 Paralympics. What are you hoping to achieve during your visit?

PC: Yes, this will be my first visit and I am very excited. I will be touring many of the venue sites, which will give me a good overview. I will also, for the first time, be meeting and addressing VANOC staff, followed by roundtable discussions and updates with senior management staff of VANOC. I will of course be present for the five-year countdown celebration in Whistler on March 12 and will have the opportunity to meet the Whistler and Vancouver community. Basically, I hope to create more awareness for the Paralympic Winter Games.

Pique: With the Games only five years away what are your priorities when it comes to the 2010 venue sites. Do you currently have any concerns about the Whistler venues?

PC: One priority is to make sure that all constructions/venues meet the needs of the athletes with regard to accessibility and the IPC has just reviewed the document Barrier Free Venues.

We are expecting to finalize the location of the Ice Sledge Hockey venue as soon as possible. At the moment, three options are being looked at and the most appropriate one will be chosen. We are also discussing the spectator capacity of the Ice Sledge Hockey and Wheelchair Curling venues.

As mentioned, another priority is to raise awareness of the Paralympics, but I also want to ensure that the support of all stakeholders continues and that the Paralympic Winter Games are fully integrated in the planning and the general culture of VANOC.