Vancouver – Paralympics Update

Having my father, a former Marine, spend the last 5 years of his life in a wheelchair, due to double amputations from diabetes (even though he had been walking miles a day, everyday), I am acutely aware of the struggles and moment-to-moment courage (and humiliations) of the handicapped people in our midst. That is why I encourage you, in your daily life, to assure their equality and inclusion.

The Paralympics showcases the global story of people with small, but Herculean strength bodies, and monumental Human Spirit! They deserve your respect and support.

The Paralympics consists of 5 sports: Alpine Skiing, Biathalon, Cross-country ski, Ice-sledge Hockey and Wheelchair Curling. But, will you even see the Paralympics without a lot of personal effort?

If you are in Vancouver during the Games, you may still have to watch it on local TV, as many events, ceremonies and individual game tickets are already sold-out. But, except locally, television time of the 2010 Paralympics will be a shamefully-reduced coverage from the thousands of hours which international broadcasters devoted to the recently completed 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

For the able-bodied Olympics, hundreds of international broadcasters measured their Olympic coverage in hundreds of hours. Some sent coverage 22 hours a day!

Now, just a few more than two dozen companies are even left in Vancouver to cover the Paralympics! And, these are measuring their hours here by fives, 10s and 50s. In fact, that’s their stated total for the entire 10 days of the Games! Shameful. Are they afraid people don’t want to see less-than-perfect bodies, or what?

However, the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VanOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) state even this poor coverage is a vast improvement over past Games.

Paralympic television coverage is on a vastly different plane from the Olympics, where broadcasters are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for just the rights (in the expectation of generating multiple millions from advertising revenues).

At the Paralympics, broadcasters pay a mere $25,000 to $50,000 for territorial rights, given viewer demand is so much less – but they haven’t cultivated “viewer demand”!

These are valiant warriors who deserve more air-time. Many are war heroes, who live with battered bodies because they protected us. Don’t they deserve better from us; we have to demand better coverage from these broadcasters.

The goal of VanOC and the IPC is simply to have broadcasters at the Games; and the most important thing is to try and get exposure. Baby steps, but it shouldn’t have to be.

Even in host Canada, the disparity between the hours of coverage is significant, whereby the Canadian consortium (led by CTV), broadcast more than 2,200 hours of coverage during the Olympics, but for the Paralympics it plans to devote only 57 hours: 30 in French and 27 in English in its schedule.

Yet, the previous Paralympics have never even been broadcast in Canada (or really in the USA) at all. Amazing. How can they get away with that on the grounds of fairness and equality?

This time, there will be actual live broadcasts in Canada of some sledge hockey games — ones involving Canada — as well as the medal rounds.

In B.C., the live coverage will air on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, with the exception of the March 16 Canada-Norway game (which will be live on TSN), and the gold-medal game, which CTV will broadcast live March 20. Rogers Sportsnet Pacific schedule.

So far, I do not know if much will be streamed online from any of the vendors, but the Paralympic organization will stream online (see below).

Even Friday’s Paralympics Opening Ceremony won’t be broadcast live, but it will be repackaged Saturday afternoon into a four-hour block with a replay of the first Canada-Italy sledge hockey game.

This way the Paralympians will get a large block of important Saturday viewers which will help give the Paralympics exposure, as they set a low goal to only get 50 more hours of exposure over the amount from the last Games in Turin.

The numbers may be small, but they are still important.

The Paralympic TV broadcast rights have been sold to 10 international consortia or broadcasters, including the European Broadcasting Union, involving 23 companies that cover most of Europe.

Most broadcasters will take the daily highlights packages being assembled from coverage provided by VanOC’s in-house service, Olympic Broadcast Service Vancouver.

In this way, the International Paralympic Committee expects Vancouver to generate more than the 285 hours for broadcasters to choose from than were devoted to the 2006 Turin Paralympics.

There are some live-streaming options. because the IPC is also significantly boosting its online coverage at ParalympicSport.tv, where it will broadcast 150 hours of live and tape-delayed events. It broadcast half that amount in Turin.

Live-streaming will begin with the opening ceremony, and I recommend that you leave a few minutes before-hand as the channel does a diagnostic test on your computer to determine what bandwidth your system can handle for best-viewing..

The attempt to give handicapped athletes more parity is sobering, and personally, I think it should be tagged as mandatory, when selling the Olympics viewing rights.

Even VanOC, which took over broadcast rights from the IPC shortly after getting the Vancouver Games, is paying the international committee only $4 million for them.

VanOC estimates the incremental cost of putting on the Paralympics after the Olympics, using the same structures and venues, is $88.1 million, (of which $32 million is coming from the federal government and B.C. province is providing $20 million). Some of the rest will come from ticket sales, which have been decent, but there will be a short-fall.

As of this Monday, VanOC had sold out the 6,000-seat closing ceremony in Whistler, BC and all of the Canadian sledge hockey games including the gold-medal game, as well as the gold-medal game in wheelchair curling, which is a favorite Canadian sport, anytime. Many of the alpine ski events have also sold out. They also expect all of the 40,000 tickets to Friday’s opening ceremony to be gone shortly. So, hop to it!

Tickets are still available at the official site online and at the Vancouver and Whistler ticket centers in person. Be aware there are resellers to use at your own risk.

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