LONDON (Reuters) - The huge popularity of Paralympic Games over the past 11 days shows that disabled sport is fast becoming recognized as elite competition, London Games chairman Sebastian Coe said on Sunday.
An unprecedented 2.7 million tickets were snapped up for nearly 45 million pounds ($72.12 million), exceeding 2012 organizers’ original target of 35 million.
“The research that is beginning to come through is showing that over 70 percent of people now regard the Paralympic Games and the Paralympians as elite athletes,” the twice Olympic gold medalist told a news conference before the closing ceremony.
“I think we’ve genuinely created a platform for their talents and disability sport. Two thirds of the population followed the Games on television, three quarters followed on any platform, so print, TV radio, online.”
More than four billion people are estimated to have watched the London Games on television compared to 1.9 billion eight years ago in Athens.
“Three quarters of viewers are clear that what they’ve seen has exceeded their expectations,” added Coe.
Fans who were lucky enough to catch the action live were more than willing participants, even watching blind football matches in complete silence so as not to interfere with the on-pitch communication.
The feel-good factor that swept around the Olympic Park and stadium over the course of the Paralympics underlined how much attitudes have changed.
In Atlanta in 1996, workmen began dismantling the Olympic village while the Paralympians were still competing.
“We’ve had a seismic effect on shifting public attitudes, one in three people think that the Paralympic Games have helped change and shift those attitudes and have shown the world the way to treat people with disabilities,” said Coe.
“I don’t think we will ever see sport the same way again, or disability the same way again.”
International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven, speaking in the same news conference, hoped disabled sport would continue to grow at lower levels.
”You develop athletes at grass roots level and people start to get it. People start to see the performances which are positive, rather than the natural negativity when someone’s lost a limb or their sight.
“Sport and physical activity in schools for everyone should be a priority subject. Life skills are the thing children in this country need and you don’t learn those life skills from studying physics.”
The face of the Paralympics, South African Oscar Pistorius, said before the Games he thought the London event would “change people’s mindsets about disabilities.”
“In the last two to three years I’ve seen a shift,” said the 25-year-old, who became the first double amputee to run in the Olympics, where he made the 400 meters semi-finals before winning two golds in the 2012 Paralympics.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar