International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons said the body is working to streamline next year’s postponed Tokyo Paralympics but will cut no corners regarding athletes, competitions or spectators.
With just a year to go until the Paralympics, which were pushed back from 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Parsons told Kyodo News the experience for competitors and spectators will be preserved at the world’s biggest event for athletes with disabilities.
“If we have the games next year, the games will be with spectators, because it’s part of the Paralympic experience and it’s fundamental to have the spectators at the venues,” Parsons said in an online interview from Brazil.
The International Olympic Committee, with which Parsons said his organization is closely coordinating in preparing for the upcoming games, is also against staging the Olympics without spectators.
With the deadly virus still sweeping the globe, the games’ organizers are facing tough challenges to ensure the safety of those at a sporting event that puts large masses of people together at a time when social distancing may still be necessary.
Asked about possibly reducing the number of athletes or events at the Aug. 24-Sept. 5, 2021 Paralympics, Parsons said, “(We) are not reducing the number of athletes, we are not reducing the number of sports, and we are not reducing the number of events.”
All other aspects, ranging from ceremonies to accommodation, however, may be subject to downsizing in cooperation with the local organizing committee, he said.
“We have identified with them more than 200 opportunities for saving costs,” said Parsons, adding the IPC and the Tokyo Organising Committee have agreed that their decisions will be made based on the concept of reductions and simplification.
In the meantime, Parsons stressed that ensuring the health of their athletes and everyone involved in the games is the main priority in this time of a global health crisis.
As of late August, global cases of coronavirus infections topped 23 million, with more than 800,000 deaths worldwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
“So we only go ahead with the games if we can guarantee the safety of everyone involved, especially the athletes,” he said, insisting necessary measures will be implemented at facilities including the athletes village, where over 4,000 athletes with disabilities will be staying during the Paralympics.
In the road map for the Summer Games, the IPC and the local organizing committee agreed to discuss additional virus measures in the last quarter of this year, according to Parsons, considering that athletes with certain disabilities can have a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms from a coronavirus infection.
“We will discuss what else we can do to protect Paralympic athletes … how to protect those who can be more at risk,” he said, adding they are learning about the disease and behavior of the virus day by day.
With many para athletes still unable to train due to the pandemic, the IPC is also concerned with athletes’ mental state, pointing to their anxiety about their athletic careers.
“I believe mental health (of athletes) is what we have been monitoring and we are in close contact with National Paralympic Committees around the world,” said Parsons, 43.
“If the games don’t take place next year, it will be a huge blow in the careers of many athletes,” he said, promising to minimize the epidemic’s impact on the qualification and classification processes, as well as staging a level playing field next year.
“If we have no choice but to cancel the games, of course we will wait until the very last moment,” he said, without giving a specific time frame.
Despite the challenges, Parsons remains optimistic about holding the Paralympics next year in the capital, as he believes people will learn a lot more about the coronavirus and that a vaccine will become available by then.
“The games mean a lot to humankind, not only for the sports fans around the world,” he said, stating the Olympics and the Paralympics will symbolize humanity overcoming the crisis.
Pledging to do everything in his capacity to make the games happen, Parsons suggested success or failure in this effort will impact the Olympics as well.
“We all work together with the IOC, with the organizing committee, and with relevant governments. So the decision will be taken with all parties involved,” he said. “If we don’t have the Olympics, we will not have the Paralympics and the other way around. There’s no way we can have one and not the other.”