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Editorial: Learning from athletes in Tokyo Paralympics, let us make a world without walls a reality

  • September 6, 2021
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The Tokyo Paralympics — a sports fest for people with disabilities — ended its 13-day run on Sept. 5.

 

Like the Tokyo Olympics, the Paralympics were held without any spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the vibrancy of the Paralympians shined through via television and radio, and made us truly realize the importance of a society that shares diverse values.

 

Top Japanese Paralympians showed us the independent ways in which athletes live their lives, with professional athletes taking part in the disciplines of tennis and track and field. Among them was Tomoki Sato, who won two gold medals on the athletics track in his wheelchair. He prepared for the Games while earning a living as a professional athlete under a contract with a sponsor.

 

Meanwhile, others have improved their skills by training overseas. Swimmers Takayuki Suzuki and Keiichi Kimura moved their bases to the U.K. and the U.S., respectively, where they brushed up on their skills. Both made it to the podium.

 

In other sports, too, those who are hired by companies as athletes have increased. It has become possible for Paralympic athletes to make full use of the National Training Center, and it can be said that the fruits of that are evident in the results of the Paralympic events.

 

Corporations and the Japanese government enhanced assistance for preparations for the Paralympic Games, which progressed at a rapid pace. Some people called the speed with which the event venues were set up in Japan as a “Parabubble,” likening it to the overheating of the Japanese economy that began in the late 1980s.

 

Parties involved are concerned that after the Paralympics, the Parabubble will burst, just like the economic bubble did in the early 1990s.

 

The Paralympians Association of Japan, composed of people who have competed in the Paralympics, conducted a survey of Paralympic athletes, coaches and staff about competition environments. Nearly half of respondents said that they believed that in a decade, funding for para sports will have become scarce, highlighting the anxiety that those involved have for the future.

 

There is a need to lay down a framework that supports athletes on a continuous basis even after the Paralympics end, so that the achievements of the Tokyo Paralympics do not end as one-off exploits. We hope athletes and sports organizations will make efforts to familiarize sports for the disabled to society and nurture young athletes.

 

It is important to use the lessons learned from the Games to build a social environment in which people with disabilities find it easier to live.

 

During the Paralympics, a visually impaired judoka was hit by a self-driving bus, and was unable to compete.

 

There were Braille blocks and boards set up at event venues and their surrounding areas, but there were areas where such consideration was insufficient. Such deficiencies still remain in all areas of society.

 

Now the 1 1/2 month Tokyo 2020 Games, which opened with the Olympics, have drawn to a close.

 

Unlike 57 years ago, when the Tokyo Games showed the world that Japan was recovering from the end of World War II, this time around, the Games were postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and many questioned the wisdom of even holding them.

 

With thinly veiled political motivations around the Olympics, the decision on whether or not to hold the Games, and the decision on whether or not to restrict the entry of spectators, were not made in a speedy manner.

In comparison, politics did not show up front and center when it came to the Paralympics. People’s attention focused on the events themselves, and the strong showing of the Paralympians left a deep impression. Perhaps this helped to stir up some questions about the way the Olympics are treated and held.

 

Still, the issue of keeping the Games small in scale remained a challenge. Staging 33 types of sports in the Olympics and 22 in the Paralympics was no easy feat, and came with heavy burdens for the host city.

 

Going forward, host cities will have to simplify, by integrating related events and through other means, and search for a way for both the Olympics and the Paralympics to exist and flourish together.

 

Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, has announced that it will be putting in a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. This process will have to start by first looking squarely at the problems that emerged in the Tokyo Games.

 

There were numerous problems on the management side of the 2020 Games, but the incredible performances by the athletes helped us realize the value of “unity and diversity.”

 

Two athletes who fled their home country of Afghanistan, mired in chaos, came to Japan by way of France to participate in the Paralympics. Without the strong will of the athletes themselves and the cooperation of other countries, their participation would not have become a reality.

 

Mutually recognizing the world’s athletes living in different circumstances and deepening exchanges through sports events regardless of differences such as disability, race, ethnicity and religion, is a principle that is shared by both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

 

The Games this year were out of the ordinary, as they were held while coronavirus infections were expanding, but the significance of holding them has become abundantly clear. Let us find inspiration in the athletes’ performances to make a society without walls a reality.

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