Paralympians parade through Christchurch
The 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships were officially opened in Christchurch today.
Over 1,000 athletes and team officials, wearing their formal attire and led by their nation's flag, will be marching through Christchurch CBD concluding in Cathedral Square.
Upon arrival at Cathedral Square the athletes were greeted by a powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome, before the New Zealand national flag was raised and the national anthem performed.
The event was officially declared open by Prime Minister John Key.
Speaking to the assembled crowd IPC Vice President Greg Hartung stressed the importance of these championships to the athletes.
"For some athletes, this will be their first time major international competition. For others, it will be the pinnacle of their career. However, for most it will be a giant step towards the London 2012 Paralympic Games which open in just over 18 months.
"This is the last major gathering of international athletes before the London Games and we can expect to see some stunning performances over the next nine days as athletes set the bar for what we can expect in 2012, he said.
Hartung also praised the people of Christchurch who endured a major 7.1 magnitude earthquake in early September 2010 and have experienced a number of aftershocks since.
"I am mindful that this is the first major event to be hosted by this city since September's earthquake. It is a testament to the spirit, the determination and resilience of the people of Christchurch that this event is going ahead as planned.
"To the people of New Zealand and particularly of Christchurch I extend the thanks, appreciation and admiration of the whole Paralympic Movement."
Fiona Pickering, chair of the Local Organising Committee and Secretary General of Paralympics New Zealand said the games were "the biggest paralympic sporting event to be held in Oceania since the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games".
"For the growth of the Paralympic Movement it is vital that prestigious events such as these Championships are held in different locations around the world and and we are delighted that they are to be held here in Christchurch.
"One in seven people in New Zealand's population of four million has some sort of impairment and an event of this scale will help change perceptions of what can be achieved by people with an impairment," she said.
Pickering also thanked the IPC for awarding the Championships to New Zealand.
"These World Championships will act as a springboard to the development of Paralympic Sport in this country and it is hoped that we will reap the benefits for years to come."
The official opening ceremony programme:
11:45 Official start of Ceremony
11:45 Entrance and raising of New Zealand flag and playing of the New Zealand Anthem 12:00 Athletes parade and enter Cathedral Square
12:30 Powhiri - Maori Welcome
12:45 Official Speeches
12:56 Paralympic Flag enters
12:59 Raising of the Paralympic flag and playing of the Paralympic anthem
13:03 Athletes Oath and Officials Oath
13:10 Official end of Ceremony
The event is free to the public to attend.
Hopes for late surge in Paralympics sales
Slow ticket sales continue to trouble an international athletics event in Christchurch, just a day out from the start of competition.
Fewer than 5000 tickets have been sold for the International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships. More than 1000 Paralympic athletes, 900 officials and about 600 supporters have arrived in the city.
The opening ceremony will be held in Cathedral Square today, with the first event at Queen Elizabeth II Park tomorrow.
Event manager Neil Blanchfield said ticket sales had improved in the past week but were still "a little disappointing".
"The big thing is people have been noticing the athletes in the city, with the multi-coloured clothing and the wheelchairs, and are starting to pick up that there is something special on," he said.
The championships include track and field events for athletes with disabilities such as spinal-cord injury and cerebral palsy, as well as amputees and the visually impaired. The stadium has seating for 14,000 spectators.
A late surge on tickets was expected, Blanchfield said.
"We expect that once the competition begins, people will come out, especially with having two sessions [each day]," he said.
"If you're working, you can still come out at three or four in the afternoon and get four hours of competition in."
Some exceptional athletes would be competing, he said.
"Some of the races will be quite exciting, particularly the wheelchair races. There are top-class fields because they all want to win a spot to get into London [Paralympics] in 2012."
He said the athletes were impressed with the facilities and the city.
Rain is forecast for today's opening ceremony, which Blanchfield said would be "short and sweet" at the athletes' request.
Teams will march from the Bridge of Remembrance to Cathedral Square at noon.
To buy tickets - call 0800 4 TICKET or see www.ticketdirect.co.nz