RIO DE JANEIRO – Hosting the Paralympics has the potential to change people’s outlook before and after the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020, according to the president of the International Paralympic Committee.
“Japan will be amazed by Paralympians, and we’ll be amazed by the Japanese people,” Philip Craven said in an interview Monday in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think the opportunities for Japan through the Paralympic Games are quite amazing, both for the athletic performance, but in the transformation of society to become even more positive. For every member of society in Japan, to be recognized by every other member as equal and different, and similar. We’re all members of one society, and that’s what will be imprinted upon every member of Japanese society in the run-up to the Games and then in the legacy after the Games.
“The wider legacy is not just accessibility, it’s a transformation of people’s minds to the positive, and that’s not just people with an impairment. But people with an impairment will know that they’ve got an opportunity. When the different flames came together to make the (Rio) Paralympic flame a few days ago, before the Opening Ceremony, I think on the 6th of September, the first athlete to illuminate a torch from the cauldron was a young judoka.
“He spoke very well. He said ‘education for all in Brazil.’ So it’s this ‘for all’ that counts, it’s not, ‘What can we do for the disabled over here?’ It’s, ‘We’re all a part of one society,’ and that’s what will happen in the legacy.”
Asked what challenges Tokyo will face, he said, “I never talk about challenges, I always talk about opportunities.”
With the first-ever Paralympics to be staged in South America, there were initial concerns about the finances and logistics before the Games began, but the Paralympics are now exceeding the expectations of many.
This, however, does not come as a surprise to Craven.
“I knew that if we could connect with the Carioca, with the passion and with the hearts of the Brazilian people, these Games were going to be a great success,” he said.
Since they opened on Sept. 7, more than 100 world records have been broken, a feat Craven attributes to the groundbreaking success of the London Games four years ago.
“I think a lot of the world only got to know about Para sport in London in 2012 and then many, many countries said we want some of that,” he said.
“The investment that’s taken place has been considerable and the finding of new athletes in many countries of the world.”
Craven said the IPC’s development arm has helped countries discover new talent and get them into proper training, “not in a professional manner, but in a very strong, sporting manner.”
A recurring question in Para sport in recent years has been the extent to which the equipment — such as prosthetic limbs — contributes to the athlete’s performance.
Paralympic long-jumper Markus Rehm, for instance, has already surpassed the performances of able-bodied athletes, including the 2012 Olympic gold medalist’s jump. When Rehm said he wanted to participate in the 2016 Olympics, it raised questions on whether he would enjoy any possibly unfair advantages from his prosthetic leg.
Craven stressed that technology has no role in the rising levels of performance in Para sport, noting his organization monitors the situation to ensure a level playing field.
“We always look very closely at the developments of equipment, but really it’s not technology that’s making the athletes jump longer or run faster or wheel quicker. It’s the athletes themselves, and that’s how it always has to remain,” he said.
“If it’s technological support that provides the performance, we’re not interested in that.”
This monitoring will result in new rules following Rio.
“There’s going to be some new rules coming in after these Games with regard to the length of prosthetics, used primarily for double amputees,” he said. “So we realized that change needs to happen there, it’s something we’re looking at all the time.
“Technology supports the Paralympic Games, just like it does the Olympic Games, but it’s the athletes and their performance that counts.”
The Paralympic Games in Rio will continue through Saturday, where the closing ceremony will see a handover made to the Tokyo 2020 organizers, who will next host the global event.
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