Athletes settle in as sales of Paralympic Games tickets defy expectations


THE IRISH Paralympians have already established a significant presence in the Olympic village before the real action is due to get under way.

Portraits of Ireland’s 49 competitors are hanging from the balconies of their apartments, much to the bemusement of competitors from other countries.

They were originally supposed to hang from the ceiling of the Irish team lodge in Stratford High Street, but they were too small so the athletes took the originals away with them.

The proper, larger portraits of the team members are suspended from the ceiling at Duncan House.

It has been a stroke of luck for the Irish Paralympian teams that they have been able to secure a home-from-home for themselves around the corner from the Olympic Park.

It is hard for a visitor to miss the familiar shamrock, green livery and sign that says “Welcome to the Home of Paralympics Ireland” outside Duncan House, which is owned by the University of East London.

Where other venues were looking for £200,000 (€253,000) for the fortnight of the games, Paralympics Ireland secured it under their budget of £20,000.

The money for the centre was put up by Sport Northern Ireland and kitted out by a company called Reach, which is owned by the team attache Gary MacManus.

Setanta’s blanket coverage of the Irish athletes will be shown on a big screen here.

There are lime green beanbags and couches for athletes and their families. A games room has been kitted out with Nintendo DS and Wiis for the wee ones.

The team lodge will allow the athletes to meet their friends and family without having to trek across London to do so and there will be plenty of people to meet and greet.

A reception for athletes and their entourages will be held there tomorrow before the opening ceremony.

It is estimated that each of the Irish athletes will bring between 30 and 40 supporters with them; the total number of friends and family from Ireland in Beijing was just 80.

Conspicuous by its absence will be a bar. “When there are a lot of Irish people around and there is drink involved, it can get messy,” explained Paralympian Ireland chief executive Liam Harbison. “We want it to be a place for the athletes to chill out with their family and friends, have a coffee or an ice cream.

“We are a growing movement, growing in the eyes of the public and we don’t want alcohol associated with it. We’ll have a drink when the games are done and dusted.”

Paralympics Ireland secured 2,000 tickets, which have all been sold. Speaking yesterday, the chairman of the London organising committee, Sebastian Coe, said it is estimated that 500,000 foreign sports fans will attend the games.

Once again demand has exceeded expectations. Mr Coe revealed that of the 70,000 tickets that went on sale on Sunday afternoon, 50,000 were gone by the following morning. Fewer than 100,000 of the 2.5 million Paralympic tickets have yet to sell.

Mr Coe also revealed that 10 last-minute television deals have been done in the past week with foreign broadcasters.

Ireland will be one of the countries with the most comprehensive coverage. Setanta is offering 73 hours of live footage featuring all the Irish competitors.

RTÉ will have eight half-hour highlights programmes and comprehensive coverage on radio and television news while Channel 4, the official broadcaster of the games, will show 500 hours of coverage across its entire network.

International Paralympics Committee chairman Sir Philip Craven said he was “very disappointed” at the paucity of the coverage by North America with NBC electing for just 5½ hours of highlights of the Olympics while Canada is not showing any live coverage.