There might not have been any spectators to cheer on the athletes, but the 22 sports in the Tokyo Paralympics set records in competition and TV viewership worldwide -- all despite the pain of organizing the event under the protocols of the pandemic.
And it was a near empty stadium Sunday night in Tokyo when the flame that was first lit in July for the Olympics faded away. The music of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” provided the soundtrack, the words to the song ringing with optimism.
Given the calamities this world faces today -- whether COVID or climate catastrophe – the choice of the music might seem ironic. Holding the ceremony inside an empty national stadium only accented the dystopian feel for these Paralympics.
But do not abandon hope.
While it might be difficult today to share Mr. Armstrong’s optimism, the Paralympics have plenty of reasons to see better days ahead.
The next three cities hosting the Paralympics should supercharge the event.
Paris 2024 is on tap, with Los Angeles in 2028 followed by Brisbane in 2032. All three are from countries that are Paralympic bedrock. These high profile destinations should deliver record-setting competition, increased marketing support and rising public attention. A golden era of growth for the Paralympics is possible.
Much of my optimism is based on an end to the COVID medical crisis. Like any other aspect of life, we are learning that sport -- including the Paralympics -- is better without a pandemic. The world needs to mask as needed and vaccinate to conquer the virus it in time for Paris, just three years away.
The movement appears to be well-served by International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons. While he himself is able-bodied, he’s full of passion for Paralympic sport.
Tokyo was his first Summer Paralympics since becoming IPC president in 2017. But given the complexity and challenges of dealing with Tokyo, Parsons should now be prepared for whatever comes up in Paris or Los Angeles. Also an IOC member, the 44-year-old Brazilian is a youngster among world sport leaders.
Media coverage of the Paralympics has multiplied with the support of OBS, the Olympic Broadcast Services. The techno megalith now delivers signals from every Paralympic event. The Paralympics are no longer a broadcasting orphan. Advances in social media and streaming services will add to the flow of imagery with each successive Paralympics.
We are entering an age when attitudes about the disabled are changing. The emergence of WeThe15 during the Tokyo Paralympics marks the start of a global campaign to make sure society includes the disabled, who represent 15 percent of the world’s population.
“We want to provide for a global movement purposely campaigning for visibility, accessibility and opportunity,” Parsons said in his closing ceremony speech Sunday night, referencing WeThe15.
“As a wise athlete said so perfectly this week, people with disabilities should not have to do exceptional things to be accepted.”
That would be a wonderful world for the Paralympics.