IPC wants new arena in Whistler to have substantial seating capacity 

Paralympics look at adding new sports to Games

The president of the International Paralympic Committee wants Whistler’s soon-to-be built new hockey arena to have as many seats as possible.

"The key is to maximize spectator numbers," said IPC president Phil Craven last week during his first official visit to Whistler since the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games were awarded.

Craven was here to celebrate the five-year countdown to the Paralympics, which will be held March 12th through 21st of 2010.

The new arena will host sledge hockey, a furiously-paced, action-packed sport which continues to draw a growing number of spectators at Winter Paralympics.

Discussions are currently underway on where the new arena should be built. Whistler officials are looking at either joining it to Meadow Park recreation centre, building a new arena near the athletes village opposite Function Junction, or making it part of a new larger entertainment complex on Lot 1/9 in the village.

"It isn’t finalized," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. "We are still grinding through those numbers and trying to figure out what makes sense in the long-term."

Craven, a Paralympian in basketball and president of the IPC since 2001, spent last weekend touring Whistler and holding meetings with senior Vancouver Organizing Committee staff on the plans for the 2010 Paralympics.

He said he was unconcerned about the lack of snow in the resort, which has received about a quarter of snowpack usually seen by this time of the year.

"I normally don’t have sleepless nights over the weather," said Craven. "I’ve heard that this is exceptional and also I am assured by (VANOC) that contingency planning will be there as required."

Craven said he was pleased with the state of planning by the Vancouver Organizing Committee and excited that Paralympics are being treated as a true partner to the Olympics.

This is the first time a winter Games has included the word Paralympics in its official title.

All of the Paralympic sports – alpine skiing, cross country skiing, biathlon, sledge hockey and wheelchair curling – will be held in Whistler.

"You have a jewel here and I know you are going to have great Games," said Craven.

The resort is one of the most accessible in the world he said, adding that he hopes the Paralympics will inspire people with disabilities in Whistler, B.C., Canada and the world to try sport.

The Organizing Committee’s CEO, John Furlong, said work was on track for the Paralympics, which will draw up to 650 athletes from up to 45 countries.

"Because everything is integrated (between the Olympics and the Paralympics) it is pretty well moving along at the same pace as the Olympic planning," he said. "I think (the IPC) feels like things are in good shape."

VANOC is looking at how to make the Paralympics the most successful ever, said Furlong, adding that tickets for these Games may even be included in Olympic ticket packages.

"Our goal is to have every seat full in every event at the Olympics and the Paralympics," said Furlong.

Sit ski gold medallist Daniel Wesley of New Westminster was also in Whistler to greet the IPC delegation.

"What better place in the world to have a Paralympic Games?" he said. "The community here in Whistler is so close knit and we have the best hills, the most challenging runs and we have the time to build the intensity and the involvement around it to make it a very successful games."

Talks are underway to include new sports or demonstration sports for future Games.

Xavier Gonzales CEO of the IPC said preliminary talks are underway with the snowboarding community to include snowboarding in the 2010 Paralympic Games.

"It is not a done deal," he said adding that it will be six months to one year before a decision is made.

"There is a long way to go to get there but there is a very positive attitude from everyone to make it happen and if the community comes together then I think we will look at this with a (positive view)."

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