With two years to go until the 2020 Paralympic Games begin in Tokyo, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said the largest challenges that remain are the same as for any games — promoting Paralympic sports and maximizing the legacy of the event.
In an interview in July, Parsons said that preparations for the games — which will run from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 — are on track due in large part to valuable contributions from the Japanese Paralympic Committee, the central and metropolitan governments, the private sector and the media.
“This is a country where we don’t have to start with the basics,” Parsons said. “We have good leadership, we have good athletes. We have a long tradition of Paralympic sport here.”
“And it’s the first time that we are coming back to a city, after the games were held here in 1964. It’s the first time ever that we are organizing the Paralympic Games for a second time in the same city.”
But while the 41-year-old Brazilian, who served as the chairperson of his nation’s Paralympic committee for eight years before taking the helm at the IPC in 2017, praised the host’s efforts so far, he also highlighted several areas that need improvement.
“From a delivery point of view, we think we are working with a safe organizing committee,” Parsons said. “It’s completely different circumstances from Rio, and it’s been a good experience so far.”
“What we have to work on is maximizing the legacy. Of course Japan is an advanced society, but in terms of changing the attitudes towards persons with an impairment, there’s room for improvement here.”
Parsons granted that the nation’s weak points, which include a lack of accessibility in Tokyo’s hotels and antiquated legislation at different levels of government, are also opportunities for betterment.
“There are issues you find out about as you go like, for example, accessible rooms in hotels — something you don’t think will be an issue but once you start working with the organizing committee, you see that it is an issue,” Parsons said.
“The legislation here is also kind of outdated, but we see this an opportunity to leave a long-lasting legacy.”
While Tokyo works to improve its infrastructure — with developments such as the opening of the Nippon Foundation Para Arena, a gymnasium built to alleviate training obstacles for disabled athletes — Parsons said other challenges that remain are typical of the games.
“I think that we have a few challenges,” Parsons said. “One of them is promotion and how to better promote Paralympic sport, and how to promote it in a way that compliments the Olympic promotion.”
“It’s important that Japanese society understands that we have the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and we collaborate and they are both part of this huge event we call Tokyo 2020.
“But you have to promote them in different ways. When it comes to the Olympics, the awareness is much greater compared to the Paralympics.”
The downside of that relationship, Parsons admits, boils down to the reality of funding the games, which is set to feature 4,400 athletes contesting 540 medal events across 22 sports, including new program additions badminton and taekwondo.
Awareness, he noted, “has an impact on ticket sales. With ticket sales, you have to put more effort into Paralympics because it is not as known as the Olympics.”
But Parsons acknowledged that promotion and other issues are not unique to the 2020 hosts.
“It’s not just a challenge for Japanese culture,” he said. “It’s a challenge for every organizing committee to find ways. We are growing and we have higher expectations.”
“The promotion has to be a combination of efforts from the organizing committee, the different levels of government, the private sector, the media, and the partners.”
Above all, Parsons pointed out that the ultimate legacy — and therefore the biggest challenge — of the games is to elevate social awareness of people with disabilities.
“How to take advantage of the games, to put people with impairments on top of the social agenda of the country — I think that’s the challenge; how to do that, how to engage with the community of people with impairments. They have high expectations on the legacy of the games.”