There are signs that with 500 days to go the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are already having a transformational impact on Japanese society.
According to International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons, growing awareness of Paralympic sport and Para athletes is being complimented by improvements to transport infrastructure and an increase in Para sport commercial support and spectator numbers. All of which, Parsons believes, is slowly changing societal attitudes towards disability in Japan.
Parsons said: “The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics are a unique opportunity to change Japan forever and with 500 days to go we are already seeing this transformation starting to take place.
“Para athletes are now frequently featured in the Japanese media and on TV, and in Tokyo there is no escape from Paralympic Games branding. It’s fantastic to see that the Games are already having an impact in many areas.”
In terms of transport infrastructure, Tokyo has made great improvements to barrier-free transportation ahead of the Games with the city’s Haneda Airport recently named the world’s best airport for persons with reduced mobility and accessible facilities.
Professor Tetsuo Akiyama, Japanese expert on urban environment, said: “Haneda Airport has been working on creating an airport of universal design since its construction of the new building in 2006, and has also re-evaluated its design and improved constantly even after its completion in 2010. I think that result correctly reflects their accomplishments and now the world recognises it quite fairly.”
Almost 90 per cent of train stations and airport terminals benefit from flat floors, while for bus terminals this figure is nearly 94 per cent. By the time of the Games, the aim is for all transport hubs to be 100 per cent accessible (according to the latest government survey). In addition to infrastructure improvements, the number of accessible trains and low-floor buses has increased significantly in recent years with the Games acting as the catalyst.
Para sport is also benefitting from more commercial support than ever before in Japan. Tokyo 2020 boast 70 Paralympic partners so far while the number of companies supporting the Japanese Para Sport Association (JPSA) has increased by 52 per cent since 2015. Such support is boosting awareness levels and leading to increased spectator numbers at Para sport events.
Parsons said: “As seen with the improvements to transport infrastructure and accessible vehicles, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are already leaving a tremendous legacy, even with 500 days to go until the Opening Ceremony. Barrier-free infrastructure and transport not only benefits persons with disabilities, but parents with strollers and an aging population. The Games are clearly helping to improve mobility in Japan.
“I’m also really pleased to see that the increased commercial support is having a direct impact on interest levels. Para sport events which used to attract hundreds of fans are now attracting many thousands. This is hugely encouraging ahead of the launch of Paralympic ticket sales later this year.”
Impact on employment
The IPC President is convinced the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will not only lead to attitudinal changes in Japan but greater employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Parsons’ confidence is based on statistics from Great Britain and Brazil that highlight the impact both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games have had on driving inclusive employment.
According to London 2012 post-Games research, the Paralympics led to one in three (33 per cent) people changing their attitudes towards disability in the host country. The impact of this is that 3.85 million persons with disabilities are now in employment in Great Britain, nearly one million more than five years ago. The same is true in Brazil, where the number of employed persons with disabilities has grown by 49.3 per cent from 280,000 in 2009 when Rio de Janeiro won the right to stage the Paralympics to 418,000 in 2018, two years after the Games .
Parsons said: “Historically, persons with disabilities have been on the edges of Japanese society, however the 2020 Games are changing this.
“Growing awareness is slowly shifting attitudes and employers, many for the first time, are taking disability seriously and realising the full benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce. It’s fantastic to see the number of persons with disabilities securing employment in the private-sector in Japan is increasing at a faster rate than overall employment.
“Most employers still fall short of the two per cent government target for employing persons with disabilities, but I fully expect this figure to grow, especially next year when the Games take place. During the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics millions of Japanese people will witness the outstanding abilities of Para athletes first-hand and I am certain that this will transform attitudes towards disability and make Japan a more inclusive country for all.”
Exciting sport for the whole family
Parsons, who is next due in Tokyo in May for the IOC Co-ordination Commission, believes the sport at next year’s Paralympic Games will surprise many.
“Sometimes there is an incorrect assumption that Para sport is not top-level sport, but I can assure you that it is, and Para athletes will prove it at Tokyo 2020. There are few people on this earth that can run 100m in 10.5 seconds, yet we have athletes who can do this who are either missing an arm or leg, or have a vision impairment. The sport really is amazing to see and is played out in front of a fantastic family atmosphere,” he said.
“Not only is Para sport top class with many world records likely to be broken, but the depth of competition is also increasing with each Games edition. The Japanese public can expect many top-quality races and matches across all 22 sports and I am confident that new sporting heroes and favourite sports will emerge.
“I think wheelchair rugby is one sport that will really grab the attention of the Japanese public. It’s a fierce, combative and competitive sport featuring unbelievable action and agility. Japan are currently the world champions, having beat two-time Paralympic champions Australia last year, and will start Tokyo 2020 as strong contenders for gold.
Around 4,350 athletes from 165 countries are set to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which take place between 25 August and 6 September. Athletes will compete in 540 medal events across 22 sports. Tickets for the Paralympic Games will go on sale later this year.