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Editorial: Tokyo Paralympics should reflect inclusive society

  • August 23, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The Tokyo Paralympic Games are set to open on Aug. 24 following a one-year postponement due to the spread of the coronavirus. Like the Tokyo Olympics, the Paralympics — a sports festival for people with disabilities — will in principle be held without spectators.

 

Due to the effects of the delta variant strain, the infection status in Japan has turned worse than during the recent Tokyo Olympics, putting a serious strain on the medical system. Students’ attendance at Paralympic events, planned as part of schoolwide activities for their educational importance, have been canceled one after the other.

 

Paralympic athletes will be, like the Olympians, placed under a “bubble system” cut off from external contact and undergo daily virus tests in accordance with the Tokyo 2020 Playbook rules, set by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and other bodies.

 

About 90% of athletes and Games-affiliated individuals entering the athletes’ village are said to have received COVID-19 vaccinations, but if infected, Paralympians carry the risk of developing severe symptoms because of their disabilities and disorders.

 

As can be seen with the Olympics, adopting the bubble system alone is not enough to dispel concerns over infection prevention measures. The organizers must protect the lives and safety of Paralympians without causing any excessive strain on community health care.

 

Over the past year, athletes had to train themselves under an inconvenient environment due to the pandemic. A host of international tournaments were also canceled during this period.

 

Paralympic events are classified into categories in accordance with the types and degree of disabilities. Due to the series of cancellations of international tournaments, however, such classifications could not be carried out, with many athletes being left without decisions on their classifications until shortly before the Games.

 

While the Paralympics are going to be held under these harsh circumstances, the significance of the Games is once again called into question all the more because the event is being staged at a time like this.

 

The origin of the Paralympics dates back to an archery competition held at Stoke Mandeville Hospital on the outskirts of London in 1948, not long after the end of World War II. It was aimed at helping soldiers who had their spinal cords injured in the war return to society.

 

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, who initiated the event, expanded the competition into international multi-sport games. Eventually, an event held in 1960 in Rome, the host city of the Olympic Games that year, later became what is known today as the first Paralympic Games.

 

Tokyo is hosting the Summer Paralympics for the second time following the 1964 Games. At that time, Yutaka Nakamura, an orthopedic surgeon in Oita Prefecture, played an instrumental role in the holding of the Paralympics after he was inspired by Dr. Guttmann’s efforts. The event was the dawn of Japan’s Paralympic history.

 

However, the Tokyo Paralympics that year did not receive as much attention as the same year’s Olympics did. It was probably from around 1998, when Japan hosted the Nagano Winter Games, that the Paralympics came to draw growing attention from the public.

 

For the Sydney Games in 2000, it was agreed that the host countries of the Olympic Games shall also organize the Paralympic Games. After this, the organizing committees for the Olympics and Paralympics were integrated.

 

In Japan, momentum to promote parasports has grown. The Basic Act on Sport, which came into effect in 2011, stipulates that “Sport shall be promoted with due consideration according to the type and degree of disability so that persons with disabilities can play sport voluntarily and proactively” — calling for consideration from society.

 

In fiscal 2014, the jurisdiction of parasports was transferred from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The Japan Sports Agency was launched the following year,

promoting the improvement of the competition environment and performance enhancement for athletes with and without disabilities.

 

A competition that was ushered in as part of rehabilitation efforts for wounded soldiers has grown into a tournament today where athletes vie to become the best in the world. In tandem with this, the role that the Paralympics plays in society is becoming larger.

 

The International Paralympic Committee advocates four values for the Games — courage, determination, inspiration and equality. In particular, equality is an important keyword in modern society.

 

Society can only become a place where people can freely pursue their happiness when its members are given fair opportunities commensurate with their diverse values and individual characters. It is said that one of the roles the Paralympics plays is allowing people to realize the importance of this awareness.

 

“Society must become one like fruit punch, not mixed juice,” said Junichi Kawai, head of the Japanese delegation at the Paralympics. He has captured five gold medals after appearing in six Paralympic Games as a competitive swimmer with visual impairment.

 

For inclusive society to be viable, it is imperative to mutually respect each individual’s “flavor,” like that of each fruit in punch, instead of blending individual characters and their different backgrounds together to even them out like a “mixed juice.”

 

The Tokyo Paralympics will be joined by an estimated 4,400 athletes from around the world. They will compete in boccia, goalball and 20 other sports that include ones peculiar to the Paralympics.

 

One of the Paralympics’ proclaimed visions is “unity in diversity,” the same as that of the Olympics. Let us contemplate what inclusive society is about while watching heated competition between Paralympians, who have built themselves up both physically and mentally for the long-awaited event.

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