Tom_Degun_in_Christchurch_Jan_19I can't deny that New Zealand is a truly beautiful place.

I'm still undecided if the spectacular views the country offers are quite worth the 26-hour flight and three plane changes it took me to get here from London Heathrow Airport.

But the rolling green hills, which I am certain featured heavily in the stunning Lord of the Rings trilogy not too long ago, are a welcome sight for sorry (or jet-lagged) eyes.

Aside from the sightseeing, I am actually here for the serious business of the 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships.

The competition, from January 21-30, is the last major gathering of international athletes before the London 2012 Paralympic Games, with nearly 1,100 from 70 countries set to compete in Christchurch.

With that in mind, I, like many others, had two rather important questions.

Despite its undeniably picturesque setting, why New Zealand and why January?

After all, the London 2012 Paralympics begins on August 29, 2012 and for practically all the top athletes here, that event is very much the pinnacle.

This year is little more than a preparation for 2012 so why would it not make sense to have the event in August and in Europe to help them build towards the Paralympics?

Christchurch saw off strong bids from Barcelona in Spain and Minneapolis in the United States to host the competition back in 2007 at an IPC General Assembly in Seoul in Korea.

It will be the first time the event has been staged outside Europe - which is no bad thing - but for my money, Barcelona hosting the Championships in August would have provided far better preparation for London 2012 in terms of timing and venue.


Upon my arrival, I knew that such questions needed to be asked and I decided that few are better positioned to provide answers than IPC chief executive Xavier Gonzalez (pictured).

"We chose New Zealand on their merits," Gonzalez told me as we sat in the vicinity of the impressive QE II stadium, which will host the World Championships, having originally been built for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

"It was a very thorough process and we took into consideration the fact that the event would take place in January which is obviously summer in New Zealand.

"We factored that in along with all the other elements and, in the end, the Paralympics New Zealand bid was the strongest of the three we had.

"Having been here on several occasions in the build-up to the event and being here now, I am certain that this is going to be a fantastic Championships.

"I understand that there are certain issues with the early time of the season that this event is taking place, but if you are from the Southern Hemisphere you would look at that situation differently and perhaps prefer it to be taking place in January.

"At the end of the day though, all the athletes are competing at the same time and they have no advantage over each other. The World Championships are about who is the best on the day and everybody has the same chance.

"With New Zealand, it is important for us to take Paralympic sport - particularly the World Championships - to new places. Athletics is our biggest sport and the IPC World Athletics Championships has always been held in Europe, so it was important to take it outside of Europe. We are confident that New Zealand will do a fantastic job."

A fair point, and this coupled with the fact that event manager Neil Blanchield informed me that the Christchurch economy will make around $12 million (£6 million) from hosting the event.

The competition will also leave a permanent legacy of a brand new, 400-metre, eight-lane warm-up track just outside the main stadium.

But this aside, there is perhaps another equally important reason that New Zealand should host the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships and that is to help advance Paralympic sport in the country.

New Zealand can sometimes be overlooked by the majority of the rest of the world as it lies in the vast shadow of Australia but nobody in these parts forgets the significant impact the Sydney 2000 Paralympics had on increasing awareness of disability sport in Australia.

New Zealand simply want their piece of the pie and they do deserve that.

"Hosting the IPC Athletics World Championships provides an opportunity to shift the attitudes and perceptions towards disabled people," Fiona Pickering, the chief executive of Paralympics New Zealand and chair of the Organising Committee for Christchurch 2011, informed me.

"This event will help get Paralympic sport in this country right up to the same level as Olympic sport and show New Zealanders the level at which all these high performance athletes compete."

So in my brief stay so far, I have established that Christchurch is a beautiful city with great facilities in place for hosting an IPC Athletics World Championships and seemingly as good a reason as anyone to be doing so.

We will only know for certain how great a decision it was by the IPC to take the event to Christchurch after the competition has officially wrapped up on January.

But as things are shaping up, it appears to me to be an increasingly good one.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insideworldparasport and is currently in Christchurch covering the IPC Athletics World Championships