Background to the Games

Rio de Janeiro was awarded the Games at the 121st International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Copenhagen on the 2nd of October 2009, defeating Chicago, Madrid, and Tokyo to become the first Paralympics hosted in Latin America, it was their fifth bid to host Games. After the surprise elimination of bookies favourite, Chicago, in the first round of voting, Rio won the third round by 66 votes to 32. 

In March 2017, French newspaper Le Monde published allegations of corruption, claiming members of the IOC had been bribed three days before October 2009 IOC Session in Copenhagen. After an investigation called "Operation Unfair Play", in October 2017, the former head of Brazil’s Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, was arrested, suspected of organising bribes totalling £1.5 million to IOC Committee members to vote for Rio in the ballot.

Former Rio de Janeiro Governor, Sérgio Cabral, jailed for fraud and corruption in 2016, claimed the bribery plan had been put together by Nuzman and Lamine Diack, then an IOC member and International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President. He also claimed to have contacted former Director General of Rio 2016, Leonardo Gryner, to facilitate the payments to Papa Massata Diack, the son of Lamine Diack and an IAAF marketing consultant. Brazilian prosecutors found emails between the two discussing payments before the vote took place.

In November 2021, Nuzman and Gryner both received prison terms for paying bribes to secure the 2016 Games for Rio. Both Lamine and Papa Massata Diack still face trial in France for their part in the scandal.

The build-up to the Games

Two weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympics, Sydney Levy, Chief Executive Officer of the Olympic organising committee phoned Sir Philip Craven, President of the IPC to say:

There’s not a lot of money in our bank account and we’re pretty certain that’s going to be used for the Olympics. There will be nothing left for the Paralympics.

IPC President Sir Philip Craven said:

Never before in the 56-year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this 

Brazil's Organising Committee had apparently spent funding intended for the Paralympics on other projects such as the renovation of the Olympic Village. The private company responsible for organising the Games was initially blocked from receiving a Government grant of approx. $79 million (£61 million) by a Brazilian Federal court injunction, which stipulated that their accounts had to be scrutinised. At this point, support grants for travel to the Games were already late which could have prevented some countries participating.  

After the injunction was lifted, Rio Mayor, Eduardo Paes, was able to secure an additional £36m of funding and £24m in sponsorship from state-run companies. However, the Paralympics were still affected by budget cuts which saw a reduced workforce, changes to transport, the closure of several venue media centres and events being moved to alternative venues.   

In May 2016, the organising committee admitted that only 10 per cent of the 3.1 million Paralympic Games tickets had been sold, admitting they had not done enough to sell the tickets, they launched a promotional and educational campaign to increase interest. With 100 days to go before the Games opening, the target had been reduced to 2.5 million, with about a third of those having been sold and sales increasing when the Olympic Torch arrived in Brazil. However, these Games became known as the ‘People’s Games’ due to the incredible support of the people of Rio who turned out in their droves to spur on the athletes from all over the world.

On Sunday the 7th of August the IPC confirmed its decision to ban Russian athletes from the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games with its President, Sir Philip Craven, described the anti-doping system in Russia as "broken, corrupted and entirely compromised”. This was after Canadian law professor Richard McLaren's independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report found that Russia's Sports Ministry had manipulated urine samples provided by its athletes between 2011 and 2015. Russia lost its’ appeal, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport saying IPC's decision to ban the Russian team "was proportionate in the circumstances". Sir Philip, also a member of the IOC, accused the Russian Government of “catastrophically failing” its Para-athletes, going on to say “The medals over morals attitude disgusts me.”


The logo designers were challenged with extending their three-dimensional concept as a brand expressing passion and transformation while communicating the Paralympic Movement values of courage, determination, inspiration and equality and representing its’ motto of “Spirit in Motion.”


The slogan, ‘A New World’, revealed at Barra Olympic Park on Tuesday the 14th of June was created to promote the concepts of transformation through sport and changing the world for the better.

Changes to Events

Canoe and triathlon made their Paralympic debut, increasing the number of sports to 22.



The district of Barra de Tijuca is southwest of central Rio and hosted what were seen as the most important of the four zones with the Olympic Park located on a triangular piece of land bordered on two sides by Lagoa de Tijuca.

  • Carioca Arena 1/2/3
    The arena was completed in 2016.
    Spectator Capacity - Arena 1: 16,000 (7,500 permanent) / Arena 2: 10,000 / Arena 3: 10,000
    Used for - Arena 1: wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby / Arena 2: boccia / Arena 3: judo.
  • Future Arena
    Completed in 2016 as a temporary structure.
    Spectator capacity – 12,000.
    Used for goalball.
  • Olympic Aquatics Stadium
    Completed in 2016 as a temporary structure.
    Spectator capacity – 18,000.
    Used for swimming.
  • Olympic Tennis Centre
    In December 2015, during a test event where 75 Brazilian tennis players competed in men’s, women’s, seniors, juniors and wheelchair categories, the centre court was named after Brazil’s most decorated tennis player, 19-time Grand Slam winner Maria Esther Bueno. The location was completed in 2016.
    Spectator capacity - Centre Court 10,000 / Court 1 5,000 temporary / Court 2 3,000 temporary / Courts 3-9 7×250 temporary.
    Used for - Centre Court and Courts 2-9 wheelchair tennis/ Court 1 5-a-side football.
  • Rio Olympic Arena
    Completed in 2007 to host the 2007 Pan American Games.
    Spectator capacity – 12,000.
    Used for wheelchair basketball.
  • Rio Olympic Velodrome
    A new, permanent structure, completed in 2016.
    Spectator capacity – 5,000.
    Used for para track cycling.
  • Riocentro Pavillion
    Completed in 1977 the location previously hosted the 2007 Pan American Games and the International Broadcast Centre during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
    Spectator capacity - Pavilion 2 6,500/ Pavilion 3 6,500/ Pavilion 6 9,000.
    Used for - Pavilion 2 powerlifting / Pavilion 3 table tennis / Pavilion 6 sitting volleyball.
  • Pontal
    A temporary open-air facility.
    Used for para road cycling.


Located northwest of central Rio, the shooting and equestrian centres were used during the 2007 Pan American Games.

  • Deodoro Stadium
    A temporary structure completed in 2016.
    Spectator capacity – 15,000.
    Used for 7-a-side football.
  • Olympic Equestrian Centre
    Completed in 2007, the site is used regularly by the Brazilian Army Equestrian School, it was refurbished and expanded for the 2016 Games.
    Spectator capacity – 14,000.
    Used for equestrian.
  • Olympic Shooting Centre
    Completed in 2007, the centre was renovated for the 2016 Games.
    Spectator capacity – 7,350 (3,950 of which are permanent).
    Used for shooting.
  • Youth Arena
    A new, permanent structure completed in 2016.
    Spectator capacity – 5,800 (2,000 of which are permanent).
    Used for wheelchair fencing.


Located close to central Rio, all the venues here were existing structures.

  • Olympic Stadium
    Built for the 2007 Pan American Games, it was renovated and temporarily expanded in 2016.
    Spectator capacity – 44,661 permanent, 15,000 temporary.
    Used for athletics.
  • Maracana
    Opened in 1950 for the 1950 FIFA World Cup, it was used for the 2007 Pan American Games, and the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, with renovations completed Daniel Fernandes Arquitectos in 2013.
    Spectator capacity – 78,838.
    Used for Paralympic Games ceremonies.
  • Sambodromo
    Completed in 1984, it was upgraded in 2012.
    Spectator capacity – 1,800.
    Used for archery.



This zone, just south of central Rio was seen as the most visitor friendly, with free access to some events.

  • Fort Copacabana
    A temporary venue.
    Spectator capacity – 5,000.
    Used for the marathon and para triathlon.
  • Lagoa Stadium
    Completed in 2016 as a temporary structure.
    Spectator capacity – 14,000.
    Used for para canoe and para rowing.
  • Marina Da Gloria
    The marina was permanently expanded and modernised in 2016, providing 415 berths.
    Spectator capacity – 10,000 (temporary).
    Used for para sailing.


Musicians and partners Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim, exponents of Bossa Nova, were voted for by some 44% of the 325,00 voters. 

© IPC (International Paralympic Committee)

Tom, the Paralympic mascot, named after Tom Jobim, an exponent of Bossa Nova, is described as

a unique mixture of the Brazilian flora. He is able to constantly transform, with determination and joy, growing and overcoming obstacles.

The Paralympic Flame

Paralympic Heritage Flame Lighting ceremony for the Rio 2016 Games

Paralympians Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, DL and Kelly Gallagher MBE at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Heritage Flame Lighting ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Stadium ©WheelPower

With the four Paralympic values, courage, determination, inspiration and equality, inscribed on it in Braille, the Paralympic and Olympic torches share the same design concept, which was intended to show they were equal. 

At the start of each consecutive day, a regional flame was lit and taken through the cities of Brasilia, Belem, Natal, Sao Paulo and Joinville, representing the five regions of Brazil. A sixth torch was lit in Stoke Mandeville, and, on the 6th of September, internet users worldwide virtually joined the six flames by sending hashtags related to the Paralympic and Rio 2016 values. The relay visited a number of locations in Rio before arriving at the Opening Ceremony on 7th of September. 

In addition to the Paralympic flame in the Maracana Stadium, another burned in a cauldron in front of the Church Our Lady of Candelaria in the historic centre of Rio. 

Read The Torchbearer Handbook.

The opening ceremony

Opening and closing ceremonies took place at the world famous Maracana Stadium. 

Held in the Maracana Stadium, the opening ceremony, attended by some 70,00 spectators, on the 7th of September had the theme of “The heart has no limits. Everybody has a heart” and celebrated the origins of Paralympic sport at Stoke Mandeville and Brazil’s love of dance, music, sport and the beach. 

The countdown started with extreme wheelchair athlete, Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham, travelling down a 17 metre ramp at high speed, before jumping through a panel bearing the number zero which lit up with fireworks. 

Ibrahim Al-Hussein, the flag bearer for the International Paralympic Athletes (IPA) team, led the parade of athletes into the Maracana. During the parade, a giant image of 6,315 photos of those taking part was created from 1,160 jigsaw puzzle pieces by volunteers. 

In a segment exploring co-existing with technology, US Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy surprised the audience by dancing with an industrial robot called Kuka.

The BBC reported

One of the most striking parts of the ceremony was when bright lights temporarily 'blinded' the crowd to try to show spectators the reality Paralympic athletes face, forcing them to rely on other senses such as hearing.

Wheelchair user and Brazilian swimming legend, Clodoaldo Silva was initially faced with a flight of stairs, which transformed into a ramp as he carried the torch to light the cauldron. 

The Games were officially open by Brazil’s President, Michel Temer. 

You can watch the opening ceremony here.

During the Games

The 31 buildings of the Paralympic village, close to the Olympic Park in Barra, covered an area of 200,00 square metres and contained 3,604 apartments with 18,000 beds. The dining hall, the size of two football pitches could deliver 60,000 meals a day.

By time the Games started, more than 1.8 million tickets had been sold, replacing the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games as the second biggest ever in terms of ticket sales.

The Medals

Sophie Christiansen with her medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio

Sophie Christiansen with one of her three gold medals. ©Tomaz Silva Agência Brasil

All the medals contained a tiny rattle that jingled when shaken, giving the winners a new way to celebrate their success, with gold, silver and bronze medals producing different sounds. 

Made by the Brazilian Mint, the principles of sustainable design were incorporated in the method of production. The gold for the gold medal was produced without the use of mercury, the silver and bronze medals both contained 30% recycled materials. This was the first-time solid gold medals had been awarded since the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games. 

50% of the PET plastic in the medal ribbons came from recycled sources. 

The medal cases carried the certification mark of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council®), guaranteeing that the wood and paper only came from forests managed according to the highest standards of sustainability.

Medal statistics

The 12 days of sporting action saw 4,328 Para athletes (2,657 men and 1,671 women) from 159 countries compete and break over 220 world and 432 Paralympic records. With 528 medal events across 22 sports, 83 countries won at least one medal, more than at any previous Paralympic Games. 

Winning Paralympic titles for the first time were Kazakhstan (1 gold), Georgia (1 gold), Malaysia (3 golds), Uzbekistan (8 golds) and Vietnam (1 gold), while the Republic of Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Qatar and Uganda won their first Paralympic Games medals. 

ParalympicsGB sent a team of 264 athletes to compete in 19 sports, they finished second in the medal table, behind China, with 64 gold, 39 silver and 44 bronze medals. Of the 378 multi medallists, 46 were British.

Natasha Baker competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Gold medal winner Natasha Baker riding Cabral ©Getty Images

Prominent British Paralympic athletes

  • Bethany Firth
    Having swum for Ireland at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Bethany switched nationalities in 2013, winning three gold and one silver medals in the S14 class, she also broke 100m backstroke world record.
  • Natasha Baker
    After winning two, Grade II, individual golds at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Natasha went one better and won three at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in the Team, individual and freestyle events, riding Cabral.
  • Sophie Christiansen
    Sophie added three gold medals to her tally in the team, individual and freestyle events, riding Athene Lindebjerg.
    Read Sophie's biography here.
  • Hannah Cockroft
    Introduced to para-sport at the age of 12, Hannah played for the Cardinals wheelchair basketball for six years. In 2007 she had her first taste of wheelchair racing at a British Athletics talent ID day, going on to win at the 2008 School Games as a wheelchair racer. Having made a successful senior debut for Great Britain at the World Championships in New Zealand in January 2011, becoming World Champion in the T34 100m and 200m. she went on to compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, winning the T34 100m and 200m and setting two Paralympic Records. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games she won another three gold medals in the T34 100m, 400m and 800m events.
  • Sarah Storey
    Sarah competed at four Paralympic Games as a swimmer, making her debut at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games, she won a total of five Paralympic golds, eight silvers and three bronze medals, as well as five world titles and 18 European championships. In 2005 she took up cycling when an ear infection prevented her from swimming for several months. Having won two cycling golds at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and four more at the London 2012 Paralympic Games she went on to add another three golds at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Media coverage at the event

The newly built Main Press Centre had 17 floors of offices, while the International Broadcast Centre could accommodate 10,000 journalists. 

Covered by television, radio and online in a record 154 countries, the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games were the most broadcast in history.

The IPC’s digital media activities engaged nearly one billion people, with their website, which showed live coverage of 13 sports and live results from all 22, having nearly twice as many visitors as it did during the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The closing ceremony

At the closing ceremony, IPC Chairman, Sir Philip Craven announced that the people of Rio and Brazil were to be awarded the Paralympic Order, recognising their outstanding support for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Sir Philip paid tribute to the performances of all the athletes:

Paralympians, your exceptional performances focused the world on your sensational abilities, …. People were in awe at what you could do and forgot about what they believed you could not. You showed to the world that with a positive attitude the human body, and above all the human heart and mind, knows no limits and absolutely anything is possible. You defied expectations, rewrote the record books and turned ill-found pity into pride. You are now heroes and role models for a new generation of sports fans from all over the world.