The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics will provide a key opportunity for Japan to promote a more inclusive society, sports experts said at a symposium in Tokyo on Friday.
They also said the games should help Japan consider what it can do to develop sports for people with disabilities in other Asian nations lagging in the field.
“I think the Paralympics need to use the very powerful platform to say people with disability need much greater access to education, much greater access to employment and much greater access to participating in their communities,” said Alexandra Devine, a senior research officer at the Nossal Institute for Global Health in Australia. “It’s very important during the Paralympics that Tokyo does raise awareness of the inequities.”
During a symposium titled “Disability Sports in Southeast Asia: Exploring the Prospects of International Cooperation,” speakers from Southeast Asia and Oceania gave updates on the state of Paralympic sports in their countries. The event was organized by the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center and supported by various organizations, including The Japan Times.
Selina Khoo, an associate professor at the Sports Center of University of Malaya, said support from the Japanese government — such as funding for training Malaysian instructors — has helped the development of such sports in Malaysia.
Yet opportunities for people with disabilities are mostly limited to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, because of the dearth of qualified coaches.
“We really need to reach people in other states, especially in rural areas,” Khoo said. It would be great if Japan could help train more local people to become internationally certified coaches, she said.
Khoo also voiced hope that Japan would help organize more sports competitions for athletes with disabilities in Asia.
“For developing countries, it’s really expensive to travel to countries like the U.S. … So if you have more competitions in Asia, more athletes can take part,” she said.
Speakers also called on Japan to treat the Paralympics the same as the Olympics.
Devine said broadcasts of last year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics at her 6-year-old daughter’s school were popular. “But the televisions were not on during the Paralympics,” she said.
“My daughter, who has a brother with a disability, asked the teachers why the Paralympics were not on the television,” Devine said, noting that her daughter argued they should be shown as well. “I was so proud of her.”
“I think Tokyo needs to make sure that the Paralympics has the same status as the Olympics,” Devine said. “So it has the same media coverage, it has the same sponsorships, it has the same rewards for athletes with disabilities as without.”