If Tokyo Paralympics Go Ahead, ‘We Will Cut No Corners But Safety Must Be Guaranteed’, Says IPC Boss

Tokyo 2020 paralympic games
Photo Courtesy: Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

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International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons says the organisation is working to streamline the postponed Tokyo Paralympics but will cut no corners regarding athletes, competitions and spectators – and safety – should the Games and Paralympics go ahead.

In an interview with Kyodo News, Parsons says that the experience for competitors and spectators “will be preserved” for the Paralympics, now set to be staged between August 24 and September 5, 2021. The If in his words significant:

“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 also noted that the event would only go ahead if the health and safety of athletes can be “guaranteed”. He noted:

“So we only go ahead with the Games if we can guarantee the safety of everyone involved, especially the athletes.”

He insisted that necessary measures will be implemented at facilities including the athletes village, where over 4,000 athletes with disabilities are set to stay during the Tokyo Paralympics.

In the road map for the Summer Games, the IPC and the local organizing committee have agreed to discuss additional virus measures in the last quarter of this year, according to Parsons. Those talks will focus on whether athletes with certain disabilities have a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms from a coronavirus infection. Said Parsons:

“We will discuss what else we can do to protect Paralympic athletes…how to protect those who can be more at risk.”

Like the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the IPC opposes staging its side of the Games – the Tokyo Paralympics – without spectators. However, social-distancing may yet be a requirement next summer, this July and August period having shown rates of COVID-19 infections rising far and wide after lockdown measures were eased.

The Japanese and northern autumn/fall and winter seasons are ahead, with health experts, including the World Health Organisation, which at the weekend pressed home the importance of social-distancing measures and noted that the pandemic “could be over within two years”, depending on the success of constant research efforts to develop effective vaccines and treatments.

Asked about possibly reducing the number of athletes for the Tokyo Paralympics, Parsons told Kyodo:

“(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.”

He noted, however, that all other aspects, ranging from ceremonies to accommodation, however, may be subject to downsizing in cooperation with the local organizing committee:

“We have identified with them more than 200 opportunities for saving costs,” said Parsons, adding the IPC and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee have agreed that their decisions will be made based on the concept of reductions and simplification.”

The survey also found that nearly 60 per cent of them took a positive view of the event’s postponement from 2020 to 2021.

Questionnaires for the survey, conducted in July and August, were sent to organizations of the 22 sports scheduled for the Paralympics, with 106 athletes in 13 sports providing answers to them, Kyodo noted.

Tokyo Paralympics: Over 70% of Japan’s disabled athletes have Corona concerns

Parsons was speaking as a Kyodo survey showed that more than 70 per cent of disabled Japanese athletes aiming to compete at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021 are worried about pursuing their sports due to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus.

The survey found that around 70 per cent of the respondents are hoping that the Paralympics will be held as now scheduled. In answer to questions on anxiety, 45 athletes said that it was a challenge to stay motivated, 41 said they have a hard time engaging in competitions due to fears of infections, and 34 pointed to difficulties in maintaining or improving their performances.

Sixty-one respondents, or 58 percent of the total, said the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Tokyo Paralympics had positive effects on them overall despite losing training opportunities.

Parsons Says Tokyo Paralympics Will Only Go Ahead If Athlete Health & Safety Guaranteed


Paralympic Opening Ceremony at Rio 2016 – Photo Courtesy: Rio 2016

Parsons told Kyodo 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 figures from the Johns Hopkins University.

With many para athletes still unable to train due to the pandemic, the IPC is also concerned with athletes’ mental health heading towards the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021. He said:

“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. If the games don’t take place next year, it will be a huge blow in the careers of many athletes.”

He pledged to minimize the epidemic’s impact on the qualification and classification processes and for the Tokyo Paralympics to stage a level playing field next year, against a backdrop of growing concerns over fairness in the categorisation of athletes and related matters.

Parsons added: “If we have no choice but to cancel the games, of course we will wait until the very last moment.”

When that moment will come has yet to be decided.

Meanwhile, Global Athlete, the representative body for athletes, has called on the IPC to reinstate all Wheelchair Basketball Athletes for the Games. Here is Global Athletes’ Open Letter:

Open Letter: Reinstatement of all Wheelchair Basketball Athletes for the 2020 Tokyo Games

Athlete Groups demand that the International Paralympic Committee and the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation reinstate all Wheelchair Basketball Athletes who rightfully qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

24 August 2020: Athlete groups have taken notice of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) decision to change athlete classification rules at the end of a Paralympic cycle, resulting in a direct and drastic impact on athletes. These athletes have sacrificed and worked tirelessly for years to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games. They had been assessed by the IWBF and found to be eligible for participation in IWBF competitions.

The unilateral decision made by the IPC to remove players from their teams who rightfully qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is illegal and violates the athlete’s fundamental rights.

The IPC is not legally permitted to exclude individual athletes who have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games and whose eligibility under the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation’s (IWBF) classification rules has not been formally contested. Further, the IPC is not legally permitted to exclude Wheelchair Basketball from the Tokyo Paralympic Games in its entirety so shortly before the beginning of the event.

The IPC has demanded changes from the IWBF. However, the IPC has not exercised the option to suspend the IWBF nor to manage the sport on an interim basis. Instead, Wheelchair Basketball players are being placed in the middle of a governance dispute between the IPC and the IWBF. The fact that the IPC has made this unilateral heavy-handed decision without athlete consultation is another reason why effective and independent athlete representation for matters of the IWBF and the IPC is so important.

A broad consensus exists among athletes and legal advisors internationally that the belated reassessment of certain players is unlawful and grossly violates the athletes’ rights. Thus, the IPC’s attempts need to be vigorously opposed, and the issue must be resolved expeditiously.

A letter has been sent directly to the IPC requesting amicable resolution – to agree to a transitional period ahead of Tokyo 2020 – by no later than September 7, 2020.