IPC President: "Most Important Paralympics in History"

(ATR) Andrew Parsons also calls the Tokyo Olympics “the biggest test event” for the Paralympics, less than 100 days away.

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(ATR) International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons believes that the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be the most impactful in the movement’s four-decade history.

"Precisely because of the pandemic, these Paralympic Games are the most important in the history of the movement because the pandemic has affected, disproportionally, persons with disability around the globe," Parsons tellsAround the Rings.

"In this sense, it has highlighted inequalities in the ways societies serve people and treat people with disability in terms of access to services, infrastructures, and in the design of policies that should be inclusive, but in a moment of stress they end up not being as inclusive as planned.

"The Paralympic Games is the only global event where persons with disability take center stage – and we’re not talking just only about sport," he said. "It is their platform that they have to be heard at the moment."

Parsons emphasizes that these already postponed Paralympics must continue the enormous progress made at Rio 2016 and in previous editions, in raising global awareness about disability and furthering inclusivity. The Brazilian sports leader says that anything slowing down or impeding the movement’s progress could be detrimental.

"If the Games don’t go ahead, as some people suggest, we will have an eight-year gap between Rio and Paris, where the main global event where their voices are heard, will not be there."

Parsons, the IPC president since September 2018, notes that one billion people, or 15 percent, of the world’s population has some form of disability and the Paralympics not only inspire, but provoke real change in perceptions towards disability.

"People are saying why have the Games now, why can’t you wait one year, two years, three years, postpone, or cancel them – these Games are more needed than ever for persons with disability," Parsons said.

Despite lingering public doubt in Japan, Parsons adamantly believes that the Tokyo Paralympics, now less than 100 days away, can be delivered safely and securely without compromising the Japanese citizens. The most recent polls indicate that nearly 60 percent of the Japanese public wants the Olympic Games to be cancelled.

Parsons asserts that health and safety of all Para-athletes, stakeholders and the Japanese public remains priority number one

"Can you guarantee that these Games will be delivered in a safe manner – yes, we believe the plans are strong enough, robust enough, to provide (for the safety of) the participants and the Japanese population.

"Honestly, if we think we cannot protect them, then we will not be delivering these Games. We don’t want these Games as a big spreader of the virus.

"The chances of someone attending the Games, testing positive and getting in contact with a Japanese person is very remote," Parsons says.

He also stresses the absolute necessity for the IPC and IOC to continue informing and educating the Japanese public about the extensive countermeasures being taken, outlined in ‘playbooks’, to ensure their health and well-being.

"We understand this position from sectors of the Japanese society," Parsons says. "This pandemic brings this feeling of uncertainty and uncertainty leads to fear. Sometimes fear leads to anger, so we do understand their concerns about the Games and their safety.

"The best way we can respond to that is with information – sharing with them what we plan to do to guarantee their safety.

Countermeasures being implemented include athletes and officials being monitoring starting two weeks prior to their departure to Japan and proof of two negative COVID-19 tests taken within 96 hours of leaving for the Games.Para-athletes will be tested daily and others frequently during the Games.

"It not only about guarantees the safety and the health of the Games participants - athletes, team officials, media, broadcasters - but also how we can guarantee the safety of the Japanese population," Parsons adds.

Parsons also notes – as his IOC counterpart Thomas Bach has postponed plans to visit Tokyo – that he has no intention of traveling to the Japanese capital until the Olympic Games, which he calls "the biggest test event" for the Paralympics.

Approximately 4,400 Para-athletes are expected to compete Tokyo, Aug. 24 – Sept. 5. The Games will encompass 539 events across 22 sports hosted at 21 venues. New sports include badminton and taekwondo.

Despite the ongoing battle against COVID-19 and the considerable concern expressed by many citizens, politicians and media, Parsons says optimism among the IPC’s National Paralympic Committees remains high.

"I think the morale is still high, but people are realistic that this is going to a different edition of the Games," he said.

Changing Perceptions in Japan

Parsons says that these Paralympics provide an ideal opportunity to create a legacy for Japan considering that the country, despite offering sufficient accessibility for disabled individuals, still possesses a ‘stay at home mentality’.

"It’s about changing their mindset," Parsons says. "In Japan, a reasonably accessible city, you don’t see persons with disability on the street – they are kept at home because there is a feeling of overprotection.

"What we want to change and achieve with these Games is through the Paralympians and what they do on the field of play.

"To change that perception and for them to understand that persons with disability need to be given opportunity and the chance to succeed in every field they want to endeavor.

"They can do whatever they want if given the opportunity."

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli

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