France looks to ‘British model’ for Paris 2024 Paralympics

As Tokyo's Paralympics draw to a close and focus shifts to Paris 2024, France is looking for inspiration to the so-called 'British model' that has produced Games success.

France looks to 'British model' for Paris 2024 Paralympics
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo takes the Paralympic fflag in Tokyo. Photo: Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

Team GB is riding high in the medal tables at Tokyo once again, trailing only China in terms of golds.

And London’s Paralympics are widely cited as the benchmark for the biggest international event in para sports.

“We all took note of the success of London 2012. It was a real turning point,” says Tony Estanguet, president of the Paris 2024 organising committee.

“We’ve met their teams and continue to work with them,” he told AFP, adding that he talked during the Olympics with his London 2012 counterpart Sebastian Coe, who now heads World Athletics.

“Their success was about very strong communication,” says Estanguet, citing efforts by both the organising committee, but also the advertising campaign of Paralympic broadcaster Channel 4.

The British channel famously rolled out its Paralympic campaign after the Olympics under the tagline “Thanks for the warm-up”, in an unapologetic celebration of the sporting prowess of Paralympians.

And it has run award-winning television promotions for the Paralympics under the theme “Meet the Superhumans.”

“The investment that Channel 4 has put in us has shown disability in a really positive way,” British sprinter Libby Clegg told AFP.

The two-time silver medallist at Rio began her Paralympic career in Beijing in 2008 and has seen the evolution of coverage and focus on Paralympics.

“It has been great for us as disabled people especially in the UK. It is great to see that this coverage has continued on,” she said.

And its not just British athletes who feel that way, with French judoka and Tokyo Games flagbearer Sandrine Martinet recalling the famously packed stands in London as a turning point.

“Culturally speaking, we felt the atmosphere was different in London. Something happened during those Games.”

Estanguet credits “a really strong approach to ticketing, based on school audiences, which worked really well.”

And the communication, publicity and ticketing made a tangible difference: while only 18 percent of Brits could name a Paralympian in 2010, the figure was 41 percent by the end of the 2012 Games.

Interest in the Paralympics and medal success have gone hand in hand for Britain, which hasn’t come lower than third in the medal table in the last 20 years, and has only slipped below second once.

The Paralympics have a particularly British history, having been invented in the UK’s Stoke Mandeville which hosted the first precursor to the Games in 1948

But the Brits have also not rested on their laurels, managing to maintain their position even as other countries improve.

That has contributed to a professionalisation of the Games.

“You can’t win a medal here if you train two or three times a week,” points out German long jumper Markus Rehm.

“This has changed.”

One of the features of the British model has been the integration of disabled athletes into the federations in charge of each sport.

France begun doing the same in December 2016 after a decree issued by the sports ministry.

“What we want is to do sport together,” said Sophie Cluzel, French secretary of state for people with disabilities.

But Stephane Houdet, France’s other Tokyo Paralympics flagbearer and a wheelchair tennis player, believes his country is “still at the start of the road.”

“The Olympic delegation came with 24 staff members, we have three,” he told AFP.

“We don’t have a physio, or a doctor,” he added.

“We still have work to do.”

Cyclist Francois Pervis came to parasports as a sighted pilot working with visually impaired Paralympian Raphael Beaugillet and says the British model shows clear results at the Games.

“They put disabled sport on the same level as non-disabled. They share training slots at the national velodrome,” he said.

“If we asked for that, they’d laugh in our face.”

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Five things to know about the Paris 2024 Olympics

The official Olympics flag has been formally handed to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo in the closing ceremony of the Tokyo games, so with just three years to go, what do we know about the Paris Olympics?

Five things to know about the Paris 2024 Olympics
French Olympians at the Eiffel Tower during the handover ceremony. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

The closing ceremony of the Tokyo games included a short video from the next host city, Paris, showcasing some of the city’s most beautiful sites and some incredible sporting prowess.

So if that whetted your appetite, here are some things to know about the 2024 games.

1 Accessibility

The Paris organisers want to put events at the heart of the city, and to that end several of the capital’s biggest landmarks are being pressed into service – beach volleyball is scheduled to be played under the Eiffel Tower, while urban sports including BMX competitions will be in the Place de la Concorde.

Open-water swimming events including the triathlon will utilise the River Seine, which will apparently be clean and safe to swim in by 2024.

MAP: Here is where events will be held for the 2024 Olympics

2 Overseas

Slightly less accessible to residents of Paris will be the surfing competition, which is scheduled to take place in Tahiti. Yes, the Tahiti that is 15,000km from Paris. Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia, which is a collectivité d’outre-mer (overseas collective) and therefore technically counts as part of France in terms of Olympic events.

3 Breakdancing

New for the 2024 Olympics is breakdancing and the Paris organisers want to give this and other ‘urban’ sports like skateboarding and BMX riding a high profile. Urban events will be held in the Place de la Concorde and the Paris 2023 video at the handover event starred a French BMX rider. (And if you watched the video and are wondering who the man playing the saxophone in space was, that’s French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who is currently on the International Space Station).

READ ALSO Paris Olympics logo – ‘is is Lisa Simpson or an emoji?’

4 Green

The city of Paris is currently run by mayor Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist with a long-standing interest in environmental policies who is currently in coalition with the Green party, so the sustainability of the Games has been a big theme. Financial constraints have also resulted in the scrapping of two planned new venues, with the organising committee saying it is keen to use and improve existing venues.

There will, however, be a new athletes’ village built in the deprived Seine-Saint-Denis area, which after the Games will be converted into housing for local people.

5 Flag

The Olympic flag was formally handed over to Paris at the closing ceremony in Tokyo and will be raised at the Hotel de Ville at 2.30pm on Monday. It will fly there until the end of the Games in 2024. Monday afternoon will see the flag-raising ceremony at Hotel de Ville and a celebration of France’s successful Olympians at Trocadero from 5.30pm (health passport required for both events).

PS The head of the Paris organising delegation is Tony Estanguet, a three-time Olympic champion in the slalom canoe event, you can follow him on Twitter @TonyEstanguet for all the latest news about Les JO.