Preparing for Paralympics

Tokyo will host the Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2020. It is hoped that the occasion will increase people’s interest in sporting events that are performed by disabled people and help build support, financial and otherwise, for disabled athletes.

The size of the Paralympics is expanding. Some 4,300 athletes from 164 countries and regions took part in the 2012 Paralympics held in London. The event sold a record of some 2.7 million tickets.

The Paralympics attracted about 80 percent of the countries and regions, and about 40 percent of the number of athletes, that took part in the London Olympics, when the two events are compared.

Events of the London Paralympics also proved that people will watch and enjoy them. The audience rating for a British TV station that exclusively broadcast the London Paralympics was satisfactorily high.

The level of competition among disabled athletes participating in international sports events is rapidly rising. One encouraging sign in Japan is that the government has decided to unify government efforts to help improve the ability of athletes who will compete either in the Olympics or in the Paralympics.

So far, the education ministry has been in charge of helping Olympics participants, while the health and welfare ministry has overseen Paralympics participants.

When compared with China, Japan is lagging behind in its efforts to support and strengthen disabled athletes. In the London Paralympics, China garnered 231 medals, including 95 gold medals, while Japan got only 16 medals, including five gold medals.

It will be important for the public sector to provide financial support to disabled athletes and to nurture coaches who train them. Nondisabled athletes competing in the National Athletic Meet receive rather beefy financial subsidies, while comparable support for disabled athletes competing in national events is rather small. The equipment needed by disabled athletes these days is costly. For example, artificial limbs and wheelchairs are expensive as they incorporate higher technology to raise the performance level of athletes.

Not only the central and local governments but also ordinary sports associations need to help nurture coaches who can train disabled athletes. The Japan Sports Association for the Disabled hopes to secure some 30,000 such coaches in preparation for the 2020 Paralympics.

It will also be important to increase the chances in which disabled athletes can compete before an audience. To have more people come and see such events will serve as an important means of encouraging disabled athletes and giving them an incentive to improve their skills. Local governments and communities should make greater efforts to help organize as many such events as possible across the nation.