LONDON – London 2012 will be the biggest Paralympics in history, with 19 more nations taking part than four years ago, organisers said Monday as they began counting down the last 100 days until the Games.
Some 4,200 competitors will take part — up from 3,951 in Beijing in 2008 — and 16 nations will be making their Paralympic debut including isolated North Korea and conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
“London could be the Paralympic Movement’s first sold-out Games in terms of spectators too. A record number of TV viewers are also set to tune in,” International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven said in a statement.
“It’s hard to believe that the forerunner for the Paralympics took place just 64 years ago at Stoke Mandeville Hospital with 16 injured war veterans, when you consider that 4,200 elite athletes will now compete in London.”
Athletes from 23 nations held the first Paralympics in Rome 12 years after the Stoke Mandeville event in Britain, which involved veterans who had been injured during World War II.
One million tickets for this year’s Paralympics, from August 29 to September 9, were sold in September 2011 and another million went on general sale on Monday, organisers said.
Broadcast deals totalling £10 million ($16 million, 12 million euros) are set to bring the Games to a total of about four billion television viewers, while Grammy-winning British band Coldplay are to headline the closing ceremony.
A challenge remains in educating people who are unaware of the Paralympics or dismiss disability sport, Britain’s nine-time Paralympic swimming gold medallist Chris Holmes said.
“It is a real challenge that we have had right from the start of this project… No previous Games has really nailed it but there are lots of reasons to be confident,” said Holmes, who is working on the organising committee to integrate the Olympics, which start on July 27, and the Paralympics.