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David Epstein

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First things first: You may be unfamiliar with the etymology of the term “Paralympics.” It has no roots in “paraplegia” or “paralyzed” or anything like that. Rather, it comes from the Greek prefix para-, which means alongside, as in “parallel.” The closest translation of the Paralympics is “parallel Olympics.” These are games started by British World War II veterans and meant to glorify athletes who have a physical disability, but all the psychic virtues of Olympians other than Ryan Lochte. The 2012 London Paralympics were absolutely ace, as the Brits would say, setting a Paralympic record (by a lot) with more than 2 million tickets sold. Progress! Which is why the staggering cock up that the Rio Paralympics are shaping up to be makes me want to chunder, as the Brits would also say. Your four W’s:

What?

“Undervalued. Underfunded. Overlooked.” That’s how one writer with a disability characterized the Rio Paralympics, which start next month. Among the many looming problems are, well, everything. Rio 2016, the committee in charge of organizing both the Olympics and Paralympics, is reportedly a cool $100 million in the red, thanks to trifles like Brazil’s economic crisis, and cost overruns and pitiful ticket sales for the Olympics. An International Paralympic Committee spokesman told The Globe and Mail that Rio 2016 may have spent money meant for the Paralympics to avoid disaster at the Olympics when facilities like the Athletes’ Village weren’t ready in time.

What does that mean?

It means that, with just two weeks to go before the opening ceremony, the Paralympics are facing cuts in everything from transportation to venue infrastructure. But, I mean, transportation in an unfamiliar country, totally overrated for athletes with disabilities, amirite?? Most importantly, though, Paralympians in many countries rely on travel grants from the host country to get to the Games. According to Bloomberg, the participation of more than 50 nations is in peril because of a lack of travel grants. Fifty. Nations. Can you even name 50 nations? Yeah? Ok, do it. I’ll wait … [Jeopardy music] … Now think of all those and a few more and pretend none of them will be at the Paralympics and you get the scale we’re talking about here. As Lord Chris Holmes, a Paralympics gold medalist and organizer of the London Paralympics, told BBC’s Newsnight: “Forget about step backwards, this is a leap backwards into Paralympics prehistory.”

What does the International Olympic Committee have to say about the cost overruns that put the Paralympics in jeopardy?

Nothing very honest, let’s put it that way. IOC president Thomas Bach said that everything’s great; that you didn’t see those completely empty stadiums at the Olympics, and that the water in the diving pool was only green to people who saw that dress as gold and white. (#dressgate) He noted that Rio has been ignored since 1960 – uh, ok – and that the Olympics cured that, and, according to Bloomberg, “imagine if this situation would have continued like this,” Bach said. Seriously, just imagine it, nobody would’ve ever heard of Rio de Janeiro until like 2050, and the country would be in a deep recess– … erm, nevermind.

What else did Bach, um, frame creatively?

“There is no public money in the organization of this Olympic Games.” Bach said that, and in a truly unique instance, literally every news source I could find agrees that this is an outright lie. You can hardly get two publications to agree if Hillary lied about her e-mails or if Trump lied about being his own spokesman with the same voice as Donald Trump, but they all agree that Thomas Bach is spouting nonsense. Though it is against Brazilian law for the federal government to fund Rio 2016, according to the Globe and Mail, the feds were indeed providing funding in ways as diverse as providing all the electricity to providing insanely expensive security services. Bloomberg diplomatically noted that Bach’s statement “is at odds” with Rio’s mayor’s pledge to fork over more public funds, and, according to the New York Times, just last week the Brazilian president promised another $77 million he found in the couch cushions.

They Said It

“Never before in the 56-year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this.” –Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee.


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Additional research by Kate Brown.

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ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.