— Published 7 June 2023

« A foretaste of the Paralympic Games »

The date is approaching. And fast. With the Paris 2024 Games just a year and a few days away, the French capital will soon be diving into the Paralympic deep end. It will be hosting the World Para Athletics Championships at the Charléty Stadium from 8 to 17 July 2023.

With just over four weeks to go, FrancsJeux spoke to one of the pillars of the French team. Ronan Pallier (pictured above), 52, visually impaired, has twice won a Paralympic bronze medal (4×100 m in Beijing 2008, long jump in Tokyo 2020). He is looking forward to the 2023 World Championships in Paris. But he makes no secret of the often disappointed expectations of the Paralympic movement.

FrancsJeux: Will the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris be different from previous editions?

Ronan Pallier: Certainly. I have been in the French team since 2003. I have been to many world and continental championships in twenty years. But these World Championships will be particularly important because they can be used to qualify for the Paris Paralympic Games as early as July 2023. The top four finishers will qualify. The sooner we qualify, the better. Besides, these World Championships will be held in France, so they will be a foretaste of the next Paralympic Games. It will be interesting to see how the public react and gauge their interest. The competition will also be an opportunity for them to get to know disabled athletes better. Some of our disciplines lack visibility. It’s always more or less the same events, especially the races, that are highlighted.

For the first time, the organisers have decided to charge for tickets. Is this a good idea?

Of course it is. The World Athletics Championships have a ticket office for the able-bodied. There should also be one for para-athletics. That would help things move forward. Ticketing gives the federation and the public authorities more resources. It helps to professionalise our sport and its best athletes. But people who really love sport do not ask themselves this question. They want to see the best athletes, whether able-bodied or not.

Is para-athletics changing a lot?

Over the last ten years or so, the level of performance has risen steadily. Today, the best disabled athletes have joined the able-bodied athletes at national level. In my discipline, the long jump, you have to exceed 7m. Equipment is also evolving, but especially for amputee athletes. For me, there is no difference. I continue to run and jump in complete darkness, directing myself by ear.

Has the prospect of the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games had an impact on your personal situation and your preparation?

I am one of the few French athletes to be a professional. I owe that to the support I receive from my department, my region and private partners. The resources are increasing, and you can feel that there is greater rigour. The Paris 2024 effect is real. But it is not certain that there will be anything left of it once the Games are over. Paris 2024 is a showcase, but more is needed to change things. The only country where the Paralympics have made a real difference is Great Britain. A development plan was put in place before the London 2012 Games. It resulted in a large number of Paralympic medals. But the effects lasted. A whole organisation was put in place to professionalise the sport and its athletes. In France, I do not yet feel anything comparable.

The Paris 2024 OCOG is stepping up its initiatives to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games up to the same level. Is it moving in the right direction?

Yes, I think so. The logo is the same, the French team is the same. Ticketing for the Olympic Games proved to be a financial drain for many families, and the Paralympic Games should benefit from this. It will open in October. Tickets will be cheaper and the event more accessible. We should have a lot of people at the competition venues. But as long as there is no osmosis at international level between the governing bodies, we will not have the Olympic rings. It is a shame. For Paris 2024, the OCOG is doing its best to encourage meetings and exchanges between Olympic and Paralympic athletes. There was a real lack of communication. But the few able-bodied athletes who get involved in the disabled sport movement often do so because they are personally concerned, through a relative with a disability. As for the rest, we rarely see the big names in French sport coming to our competitions.