DUBAI // The International Paralympic Committee says Dubai was an obvious choice to stage the first portion of their inaugural IPC Athletics Grand Prix, as the governing body looks to build on the success of the 2012 Paralympic Games.
The new competition begins on Saturday with the 5th Fazaa International Athletics Competition, taking place at Dubai Police Officers Club.
More than 450 athletes have registered for the four-day event - 93 from the UAE alone - with 31 countries represented, including a large contingent of medal winners from London last summer.
After Dubai, the Grand Prix will travel to Beijing, Sao Paulo, Grosseto (Italy) and Mesa, Arizona (United States) before concluding at Berlin on June 16.
However, the continued success of Fazaa since its inception in 2009 ensured Dubai would be the initial stop on the calendar.
"The reason we picked the Fazaa International to become one of the partners in the inaugural year is because we recognise the high quality of the event," said Ryan Montgomery, the senior athletics manager at IPC.
"We have trust in people like Thani Juma Belregad [chairman of both the Local Organising Committee and the Dubai Club for people with disabilities], and there's a core group of people, not only within the UAE, who can make sure this event is to a high standard.
"With that trust it's a very easy option for the IPC to go to Dubai because we knew the standard and know it's getting better and better.
"And you can see that with the popularity of the number of athletes and number of countries participating. You can see with the number of top international events heading to the UAE that not only is the infrastructure world class, which is vitally important, but the knowledge and delivery is also world class."
Montgomery expects the Grand Prix to expand to include more events next year, although while he would welcome an approach from Abu Dhabi, the likelihood of hosting two events in one country would be remote.
Should the concept prove a success, the IPC would attempt to create a Grand Prix presence in Africa and Oceania while continuing to extend its reach in Europe, Asia and the Americas. An event in Great Britain, the home of the Paralympic Movement, is also being considered, although the Movement is again represented in London as next month the English capital will play host to the first IPC Athletics Marathon World Cup.
Dubai, though, can anticipate becoming a mainstay on the Grand Prix map.
"I'd imagine we'll keep our inaugural partners, so Dubai will be there next year if they agree to do it," Montgomery said.
"They get effectively first right of refusal. But obviously, we'll ask people to apply to be part and base our decision on their application.
"There's no reason to stop Abu Dhabi applying, however, you cannot expand the series to the point where you have 10 events in one country because obviously the Grand Prix has to move around the world and give a regional balance."
Montgomery termed para-athletics "as strong as it's ever been", as evidenced by last year's television figures and tickets sold for the Paralympic Games.
Across the 12 days from opening to closing ceremonies, a total of 3.4 billion people worldwide tuned into the event - an increase of 37 per cent on international audiences for Beijing 2008 - with 1.2 million tickets sold.
The UAE contributed to the success, too, with 15 athletes taking part in London.
Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani, the marksman from Al Ain, took home a gold medal in the mixed R6 50m air rifle prone SH1, and Mohammed Hammadi added bronze in 100-metre wheelchair T34 to his earlier silver in the 200m race.
With the introduction of the IPC Athletic Grand Prix, the next step for the UAE athletes would be achieving the requisite results to qualify for July's World Championships in Lyon, France.
"By having this platform of events as a focal point for the area, the organisers there are intending to get those qualification times that will add to their country's slot allocations," Montgomery said.
"As with a lot of nations, sport develops with time and obviously develops with success. So in terms of the UAE, a first gold medal and then having an athlete in silver and bronze is a huge stepping stone to build on that success.
"Guys like Mohammed Hammadi can inspire other athletes to follow suit."
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