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TX: 26.04.04 PARALYMPICS 1 Is Athens Ready To Hold The Games?

PRESENTERS: WINIFRED ROBINSON AND PETER WHITE

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY

ROBINSON
The Paralympic Games for disabled athletes are due to open in Athens in September. At the moment all the news coverage is inevitably centring on the main event in August. But if past experience is anything to go by once the Paralympics get under way they will generate a lot of interest, mainly because our disabled athletes win a lot more medals.

Peter White has been to Athens and all this week he'll be reporting on aspects of the Paralympics. On the day he arrived newspaper reports in Britain were claiming that only 15 out of 39 venues were ready and that the main stadium lacked a track, seating and a roof. But IoannisSpanudakis, who's head of the organising committee at Athens 2004, was unabashed.

ACTUALITY - BUILDING WORK

SPANUDAKIS
The one venue which has extensive work still to take place is the Oaka, the main Olympic complex. There is a very intensive work schedule. We follow the work schedule. This project is very visible also because of its roof, so nobody can go by without noticing it. I'm very confident that this is a venue that will be completed within the time schedule and considering all the difficulties with the construction.

WHITE
There have been anxieties, in particular about Athens ability to stage the Paralympics, ever since the city was chosen to stage both games. But now with the start only five months away those most closely concerned appear to have decided to put a brave face on things. Chief executive of the British Paralympic Association and our team's manager, Phil Lane, tells me it's just the usual press pre-games doom and gloom.

LANE
Not for the first time, and you went to Atlanta so you will know, maybe a little bit of the paint will still be wet and one or two bits and pieces will still need to be screwed together and tacked up. But we're fairly confident that it'll be ready, certainly for the Paralympic Games anyway, given that we've got the test event in before.

WHITE
But for disabled athletes and particularly disabled visitors it's not in the purpose built arenas and the village that the problems are likely to arise. It's with the infrastructure of Athens itself and the ability to be able to reach the facilities Athens has spent millions on.

This is Monastiraki metro station, it's one of the new state of the art underground stations which Athens is rightly proud of. As far as disabled people are concerned it's got elevators from street level, it's got wide easy access for wheelchairs, the trains are flush with the platform. For someone like me there are clear announcements and there are textured surfaces as well. And if you're deaf there's amplification at the ticket machines. So why are very few disabled people actually using it? We've been here for four days using the metro a lot and we've seen one wheelchair user. The problem lies not inside the metro but outside.

STREET NOISE

Athens is a driving and walking nightmare. Cars clog the roads and obstacles strew the pavements and every time the authorities construct a drop kerb for wheelchairs or textured paving for blind people somebody comes along and parks on it. We're on our way to meet the BBC's Athens correspondent, Richard Galpin, who's lived here for a year.

GALPIN
They've tried to introduce schemes, for example, where you can only take your car into the city centre on alternative days but the response to that by Athenians has been to buy two cars. So it doesn't make much difference. And also you know a lot of problems here you have is people don't respect the law. And then in terms of paving, generally they are atrocious - just holes everywhere, things you could trip over the whole time and you just can't - you're having to skirt round cars, motorbikes parked at every conceivable angle in every conceivable location on these pavements.

WHITE
I'm a fairly intrepid lone traveller in London with my white cane, so I thought I'd give these pavements a try. But even with the help of my assistant Stephen Williams this required a new level of intrepidness.

WILLIAMS
Right, there's quite a big gap there.

WHITE
Blimey there is, that's exactly what I mean - a steep step, a gutter and then it sticks out there and what's that?

WILLIAMS
That's a car, a car sized car.

WHITE
So you step out, you'd either put your foot down a hole or you'd crack your knee on a car. Those are the alternatives. Shall we go?

WILLIAMS
Yeah, after you.

WHITE
All very well for me I suppose to poke fun - a reporter, just here for a few days - but what about the blind people and the wheelchair users who live here and are being told that they will benefit from using brand new facilities like the 300 adapted buses and the newly accessible metro system? Wheelchair user Manolas Piakkis [phon.] who works for a disabled children's charity in Athens, has seen little evidence of the trickle down effect so far.

PIAKKIS
I can't use metro, I can't move easy on the wheelchair because the place on the road, on the Greek roads, is very difficult for disabled people. Every morning for to go in my work I use a taxi driver and I pay 10 euro every day for one time.

WHITE
And this is a problem the urbane Mr Spanudakis can't gloss over, though he tries very hard.

SPANUDAKIS
It needs policing, it needs to ensure that we abide by the rules and also it needs to ensure that there is enough parking space around downtown Athens mostly. Eventually we believe that this is a longer term process. We need to change our attitudes, we need to change ourselves - the way we are behaving and the way we want to address all people with equal opportunities and equal rights.

WHITE
And here Ioannis Spanudakis has touched on a crucial point: this is not just about parking and pavements, it's about an attitude to disability and unfair though it is to make snap judgements after a few days people who've lived in Greece some time, such as RichardGalpin, do feel that disabled people are almost invisible here.

GALPIN
I've seen very, very, very few disabled people out and about, it's really a rarity. I think, certainly for example, on the metro I only remember seeing a couple of people in wheelchairs going on to the metro and I have a feeling actually that they were athletes coming to look at Athens for the Paralympics.

ACTUALITY - ATHENS HEADQUARTERS FOR PARAPLEGICS

WHITE
I went to spend an afternoon at the Athens headquarters of an organisation representing and run by paraplegics. Over iced coffee they confirmed that they did think Greece was lagging behind in education for disabled people, its social services and that too many people still lived in institutions. Nonetheless, when pressed about the Paralympics they still desperately wanted to believe that ordinary disabled people would benefit from the work done as a result of the Games.

MEMBER OF PARAPLEGIC ORGANISATION THROUGH INTERPRETER
There has been a major improvement but we need more. We have visited many countries of the European community and we think that our differences are not so many as they were the previous years.

WHITE
And it is true that in recent years there has been legislation to give more rights to disabled Greeks in areas such as employment and that as a direct result of the Games there's something called the Ermis Project, which encourages shops and businesses to improve their accessibility to disabled customers. Ioanna Karyofylli, who has responsibility for the Paralympics within Athens 2004, was enthusiastic about this project.

KARYOFYLLI
We love so much this programme, the Ermis programme, and we work very hard for this programme and we think that it will be a successful programme. We have a guide for first time with all the accessible businesses and shops and this programme is successful you know, it was very difficult to change the opinion but it's successful.

WHITE
Do you know how many people or companies have signed up?

KARYOFYLLI
About 3,000 I think, about 3,000.

WHITE
One thing is certain, Athenians desperately want the Olympics and the Paralympics, when they've heard about them, to succeed. Despite often expressing doubts when Athens originally got the gig PhilCraven, president of the International Paralympic Committee is now in no doubt.

CRAVEN
Absolutely it should be in Athens. I think the Paralympics can go to any city in the world where the Olympic Games are. And Paralympians will swarm all over Athens, there'll be no problem, they'll be up on the Parthenon whether it's accessible or not officially, they will be there. So I think that it's such a great opportunity for Athens and for Greece to have these games, for now and for the future, but Paralympians aren't going to find Athens a major problem, they're just going to enjoy the history, the people and the sporting excellence that takes place.

WINIFRED
Phil Craven ending that report by PeterWhite. And tomorrow Peter's going to meet some of the British teams and individuals who'll be going for gold in Athens.

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