RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Tickets sales for the Paralympic Games are lagging, but they are getting a big boost from an unexpected source — the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Philip Craven, the head of the International Paralympic Committee , told The Associated Press in an interview that 33 percent of 2.5 million tickets had been sold, compared to 67 percent of 6 million Olympic tickets.
Rio's municipal government announced Monday — as the Paralympic countdown clock reached 100 days — that it was buying 500,000 Paralympic tickets to distribute among schools, municipal workers and to unspecified people with "impairments." In addition, it said it was buying 47,000 Olympic tickets to distribute, principally to students.
Two years ago at the World Cup, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes criticized expensive ticket prices that shut out many residents of Rio, which has a stark divide between the rich and poor.
Paes promised at the time to give away 1.2 million tickets for the Olympics, but failed to deliver.
The 47,000 Olympics tickets that the mayor finally came up with is about 4 percent of his initial promise.
It was a hollow promise. The city would have needed to spend between $10-15 million to buy 1.2 million tickets. Local Olympic organizers said repeatedly they could not afford to give away tickets due to a tight operating budget that depends on ticket-sales income.
The price tag for the 500,000 Paralympics tickets should be much lower, perhaps in the range of $1-2 million. This is because Paralympic tickets are much cheaper and the city is buying far fewer.
The Paralympic Games seem to have avoided the problems with doping that are dogging the Olympics.
"We don't believe we've got a major problem in positive doping results, but it's something we're watching very, very closely," Craven said.
The International Olympic Committee announced recently that up to 55 athletes have tested positive for doping in a reanalysis of samples from the past two Summer Olympics.
The IOC keeps samples of previous games for 10 years.
Craven said the IPC only began storing samples starting with the 2012 Paralympics in London.
"We have a very, very low count on positive tests," he said. "However, our standpoint on this is that we fully support the actions of the IOC and WADA with regard to the retesting."
STIRRING UP INTEREST
Craven is working to stir up interest in the Paralympic Games, which open on Sept. 7 — 2-1/2 weeks after the Olympics close.
The Paralympics have about 4,350 athletes compared to 10,500 for the main event, but face the same problems: the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil, security worries, and water pollution in venues.
Brazil is also mired in its worst recession since the 1930s with President Dilma Rousseff suspended and awaiting an impeachment trial.
"Rio is one the verge of staging a fantastic Paralympic Games despite all the difficulties that the nation and the organizing committee and the IOC and IPC have had to go through," Craven said. "This is where I think we will see sport pull together."
"I am fully confident that Rio 2016 will be the best ever in terms of athletic performance," he added, "going beyond what we saw in London four years ago.
Craven has been using a wheelchair since a fall 50 years ago — at age 16 — in a rock-climbing accident that left him a paraplegic.
"One second I was standing on a cliff, and the next second the legs didn't work," Craven told AP in a separate interview last year. "When somebody pats you on the shoulder because you are in a bloody wheelchair; Gosh that gets me mad to this day."
To express the Paralympic attitude, he quoted an Australian wheelchair basketball player.
"Paralympians don't have the time to worry about what doesn't work, they just maximize what does," he said. "This is a signal to everyone to maximize your capabilities and don't worry too much about what you've not got. Maximize what you've got."
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade