The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games train is picking up speed again. Ticketing opened on 9 October. On Friday 3 November, the countdown will pass the 300-day mark (D – 299). The route of the flame will be unveiled on Friday 10 November.
For Marie-Amélie Le Fur (photo above), the event promises to be a turning point. A three-time Paralympic champion and nine-time medallist, she has chaired the French Paralympic and Sports Committee (CPSF) since December 2018. For the first time since the 2008 Beijing Games, she will not be experiencing the event in the shoes of an athlete. She spoke to FrancsJeux.
FrancsJeux: You took part as athletes in four editions of the Paralympic Games, between Beijing 2008 and Tokyo 2020. Which was the best?
Marie-Amélie Le Fur : London 2012. As an athlete, these Games were the most successful. The public enthusiasm and commitment were extraordinary. I remember it as a great party, with a wonderful atmosphere. In my sport, athletics, the stadium was full at every session. The other success of these Games was the presence and behaviour of the volunteers. Their good humour was infectious. The athletes and volunteers felt at home with each other. Apart from the sporting aspect, the Games are a human experience.
What are the first expectations of athletes at the Paralympic Games?
The conditions for performance. They need the athletes’ village to be well laid out, particularly in terms of movement and signage. We don’t want to waste time trying to find out where things are and how to get there. Performance also means having areas for rest, calm and recuperation. Finally, the Games are also an often unique opportunity for athletes to meet up with sportspeople from other disciplines, to exchange ideas and share experiences. One of the challenges for the organisers and delegations is to enable and encourage people to live together.
On these issues, do you think the Paris 2024 Games are heading in the right direction?
Yes, I think so. The concept is very promising, with competition venues that will make athletes proud, often at the heart of cultural heritage. Now we need stadiums that are full, and that means successful ticketing. The OCOG is determined to put its money where its mouth is. In the end, not all the ideas will be realised, but I think that these Games will go as far as possible.
Do you think there’s enough coverage of the Paralympic Games these days?
There’s more and more coverage. Media coverage is increasing and will continue to do so. But we need to go further: introduce the public to the great Paralympic champions and tell the story of these athletes’ careers. Another challenge is to educate, so that people know a little more about para-sport, its rules and its disciplines. We need to talk about it in the same way as we do about top-level sport, without pathos, and separate sport from the notion of disability.
You sit on the Board of Directors of the Paris 2024 OCOG as President of the CPSF. Are you listened to?
We are listened to and consulted. The OCOG took the opinion of the French Disabled Sports Federation on the routes for the road, athletics and cycling events, which were recently unveiled. We took part in discussions about the opening ceremony on Place de la Concorde. The OCOG is still the leader, it is in charge of its own decisions, but it knows how to take advice.
With less than 300 days to go, what are the main challenges to the success of the Paralympic Games?
I see two. The first is to create a stronger and more lasting link between the event and the public. We need to energise the relationship between the French and the Games. When the time comes, people have to want to come and watch the competitions because they’re convinced of what they’re going to experience. The second challenge is legacy. The Paralympic Games have already been a catalyst for the importance of sport for people with disabilities. A lot is being done in this direction. Budgets are increasing. But we will have to continue once the Games are over.
It is often claimed that the Paralympic Games can change the way society looks at disability. Isn’t that asking too much of a sporting event lasting less than two weeks?
I don’t think so. Studies have already measured and demonstrated the impact of the Paralympic Games. Paris 2024 will be no exception. They won’t change everything, but their effects are already perceptible, on transport, accessibility and the practice of sport. Even before they began, the Paralympic Games have raised awareness about access to sport for people with disabilities.