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MOSCOW, March 06. /ITAR-TASS/. The XI Winter Paralympic Games in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi will be held on March 7-16, 2014. Paralympic athletes from 47 countries will compete in the Games. As many as 64 sets of medals will be contested in five Paralympic disciplines. This sport event that does not cede to other competitions in high passion and spectacularity and always attracts attention of millions of spectators will be held in difficult international circumstances. However, no one doubts that the Paralympics will be successful.
The main heroes of these competitions are already accommodated at the Olympic Villages, and athletes admit they are pleasantly surprised with conditions provided for people with disabilities in the city of Sochi. Russian President Vladimir Putin told Russian and foreign journalists on Wednesday about the preparations and expectations from the forthcoming Paralympics.
The president dwelt on support to Paralympic sport in Russia from public and business and creation of an accessible environment for disabled people. Thanks to special programs implemented in Russia recently, the number of handicapped people who go in for sports grew to 500,000, and this figure may reach 2.5 million by 2020 in the country.
“Paralympic sport develops everywhere mainly thanks to state support,” Putin said. “Realization of the whole scope of measures from improvement of their medical and material and technical support to higher federal prizes upon results of performance at international competitions also contributed to success of our Paralympians,” the Russian head of state noted.
Vladimir Putin said with confidence that interest in the Paralympics would be growing. “Enormous humanistic potential of the Paralympic movement is irreplaceable for moral upbringing of society, youth, establishment of principles of equal capabilities, creation of conditions for fulfilling personal, creative and professional potential and for comfortable and worthy life of all citizens without exception,” he noted.
Sochi is prepared to host the Paralympic Games, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven stated, noting that he did not make any distinction between the Olympics and the Paralympics, as these competitions have made an integral whole. Mostly important was that all facilities in Sochi were accessible for people with disabilities, he noted.
The IPC president stated that he considered Russia’s team one of the frontrunners at the forthcoming Paralympics. The Russian team was very strong in cross-country skiing and biathlon and attained big successes in wheelchair curling and ice sledge hockey, Craven noted. Craven recalled that he had met with Russian Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko and had thanked him for a large amount of systemic work being done for the development of Paralympic sport in Russia with state support.
As for results of the Paralympics in Italy’s Turin and Canada’s Vancouver, it can be easily seen that athletes in cross-country skiing and biathlon had made major contribution to the number of Russian medals won at the Games. Thanks to these kinds of sport, the country became a leader of international Paralympic movement. Seven Paralympic champions are now included in Russian team from Paralympic stars in Vancouver.
The latest major competitions showed that Russian team had the same main rivals as four years ago. They will be fighting for medals primarily with athletes from Germany, Ukraine and Canada.
As it happened many times in the history of major international competitions, politics threatened to impede sports again. The Paralympic Games will start in a tough international situation around the dramatic events in Ukraine. Delegations of officials from the United States and Great Britain decided not to come for the Paralympics in Sochi.
“This will be extremely cynical if the West neglects the Paralympic Games somehow. If someone tries to sabotage them, this only means that people do not have anything sacred,” Vladimir Putin told a news conference on Tuesday.
However, the position of the leadership of several countries should not affect the Games anyway. The Paralympic Villages in Sochi have already been packed almost fully with representatives of foreign delegations two days ago. For instance, the US team consists of 80 athletes, compared to 50 Paralympians at the previous Winter Games in Vancouver.
“Politics did not hamper sport this time. If leaders of several countries do not come, this is their personal business, and this will not stand in the way of athletes and the Games anyway,” Director General of the Council of National Strategy Valery Khomyakov told Itar-Tass, adding, that “thankfully, they had enough conscience and common sense not to foil the Paralympics."
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