Andrew Parsons: “I am impressed by people’s perception of the Paralympic movement in Spain”

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Andrew Parsons posa para AS en el CSD.

Andrew Parsons (Rio de Janeiro, 1977) has been the president of the International Paralympic Committee since September 2017, a position for which he was re-elected last December. He faces his second term with the illusion intact and the firm desire that sport become the tool to build an inclusive world. For this, he has the invaluable help of the Spanish Paralympic Committee, which he has visited this Tuesday and Wednesday, and which he praised in an interview with AS. Parsons, in a perfect “portuñol”, as he himself jokes, poses future challenges, with the satisfaction of the goals of the past. He looks at Paris 2024 and does so with the certainty of having taken the challenges of Tokyo and Beijing with flying colors. Neither COVID nor the war tarnished some appointments where values ​​and the human component continue to be a fundamental part. And it is that the Paralympic movement is not only based on sport…

—What balance do you make of your visit to Spain?

—It is always a pleasure to be here with the Spanish Paralympic Committee. We are friends, within the international Paralympic movement. The CPE invited me, taking advantage of the fact that I was in Europe, to discuss issues of the future of the movement both in Spain and internationally. The CPE is one of our members and we exist to serve our members. Listening to them is the first step. We have covered topics such as Paris 2024, the IPC sports transition (International Paralympic Committee) to International Federations, commercial issues, our relationship with the International Olympic Committee… Important things so that the CPE can make its plans as well.

—How do you see the movement and the Spanish Paralympic Committee?

—The CPE is one of the most influential Committees in the world, very efficient. On Tuesday I had lunch with the athletes at the CAR in Madrid and they are very happy. They know that they have a very professional structure behind it. There is always something to learn and the Committee does an impressive job with the private sector, with its sponsors. Not only from a commercial point of view, but also bringing these companies closer to the Paralympic movement, making them feel that they are part of it. In addition, I am impressed by the presence of the Paralympic movement in the perception of people in Spain. 60% of society knows him and that does not happen in all the countries of the world. We must learn from this model, see what we can transfer to others and deal with issues and concerns.

—After your re-election as head of the International Paralympic Committee, what challenges do you face?

-I was elected last year and I will be until 2025. The future of sports for us is at the intersection between entertainment and purposes. It must be of a high level and people have to want to see it. We work to improve the conditions of the National Paralympic Committees, in the Games… But in terms of purposes, we consider what we can do in terms of human rights, such as positioning the Paralympic Games as a platform to change the world. Not just for the 4,350 athletes at the Paralympics but also for the 1.2 billion people with disabilities right now. My ambition is for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games to be perceived as the most transformative event in the world. Not just sporty. It is the only global platform or event that puts people with disabilities at the center. We cannot waste this opportunity and it is very important to position the Paralympic Committee as a leader in this.

“Spanish athletes are very happy; they know they have a very professional structure behind them”

—One of the strong points is its relationship with the International Olympic Committee…

—My first six months as president of the IPC, in 2017, we focused on recovering and transforming our relationship with the IOC. That was achieved through this agreement (‘One city, two Games’) that runs from 2018 to 2032, at least… This encompasses many more things, such as the sponsorship and marketing programs, the organization and delivery of the Games… This joint work was fundamental for Tokyo with the pandemic, to be at the highest level, reducing costs, a lot was invested in the protection of athletes and the population of Japan, more than 800 million dollars in this. That is why investing in this relationship was so important and more so because of how we can make sport an instrument to create a more inclusive planet. Our work with the COE is not limited exclusively to the Games, but to jointly leading the international sports movement.

—Another aspect is the comparison between Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

-They are athlets. Spot. And they should be treated as such. The most impressive thing is that the Olympians understand it perfectly, one athlete recognizes another in all parts of the world. Now in Spain a new Sports Law is approved, with more presence of Paralympic sports, and that is fundamental. The Spanish Paralympic Committee is leading it very well. The equality has to be in the law, but also in society. What role do we have as sports organizations? In many countries the Olympic and Paralympic medal prize is already equated and we are talking about very different countries, such as the United States, Malaysia or Uzbekistan. Little by little we are walking, but the first step is the law.

—What balance do you make of the Tokyo and Beijing Games, in which they have had to face challenges such as COVID and the invasion of Ukraine?

—The Paralympic movement came out stronger. The preparation of the athletes in the middle of the pandemic, those 18 months, was very difficult. The videos of the athletes training on their floors… and how the Paralympic Committees were offering infrastructure was incredible. We support them financially, with knowledge… working together was important. Each edition had its challenges. Tokyo was the first, organizing an event of such magnitude protecting not only the athletes, but also the volunteers and a population that was not happy with the Games… his opinion changed when he realized that the systems that were implemented protected them. The numbers of positives were very low. Beijing was the Winter Games, with other characteristics, another country, another regime… The concept that whoever is inside does not leave and whoever is outside does not enter. It worked too. The situation with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus was very difficult. We sent 81 athletes back home. Nobody can be happy about this, but it was the right thing to do given the magnitude of what was happening. The decision our movement wanted. We made an announcement and the reaction of the National Paralympic Committees, athletes and governments made us change it in less than 24 hours. We listened to our members and were very democratic in our reaction. If they want us to go in that direction, we will go.

—With the delegation from Afghanistan and the refugee team, you showed special sensitivity in Tokyo… Does it respond to the values ​​embodied by the movement?

-Yes. Refugees with disabilities are the marginalized of the marginalized. If we want to promote a concept of inclusion, refugees are part of a new society, because they go to another country. We can help them in a specific situation like Afghanistan. Your athletes can participate and make their dream come true. That message is very strong. An Afghan athlete with a disability, fleeing from the Taliban regime and competing in the Paralympic Games… For me, personally, it was the most important moment of that event. When I received Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli at the Villa they were…poor things, poof! Our first objective was to protect them. Not physically, but mentally. So that they could enjoy that moment. That was also sending a message to the world.

“My ambition is for Paris 2024 to be perceived as the most transformative event in the world”

—The Paris 2024 Games appear, how do you face them?

—We started working on them in 2017, when they were chosen. It is a shorter cycle, but not for Paris, but for the athletes and the National Federations. From the organizational point of view it has been seven years, like the others. Paris has that spirit of revolution, it wants to do different things. They already announced that the opening ceremony of the Olympics will be on the Seine River. We are dealing with them something just as revolutionary for the Paralympics. Last week I was with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, talking about legacy and she has a vision along the lines of ours. The Games must serve the city and the people, not just the disabled. It is a global event and our ambition is global, we want to change the world. And we are not only aligned with the Organizing Committee, but also with government authorities…

—Another point to be discussed is the inclusion in the tests of athletes with Down Syndrome…

—Clarify that athletes with Down Syndrome can participate in the Paralympic Games in the category for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Of course, people with Down syndrome do not physically have the same characteristics as athletes with other intellectual disabilities. Using a sporting simile, now the ball is in the court of the International Federation of Sport for the Intellectually Disabled. They are developing a specific class of athletes with Down Syndrome. We are talking about high-performance sports and the limits must be very well defined because within Down Syndrome there are many levels. Scientifically how can we reach this class profile and from there the next step is in which sports, then how to propose their inclusion in the Games. For Paris it is no longer possible. We are defining the sports program for Los Angeles and we want to announce it in January 2023. It is more realistic to have something for Brisbane 2032. We do not want the participation of athletes with Down Syndrome to be something that brings more negative than positive aspects. The classes must be well defined based on science.

—With what feeling do you end this visit?

—I always leave Spain very impressed by its initiatives in many areas. I spoke with the presidents of the federations, I learned from them to implement things in other countries and the group is very strong. It is an ongoing process and the next important step for Spain is the approval of the new Sports Law. Laws are fundamental. Many important victories have come in their parliaments. The medals are important, but these victories are essential.

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