The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games was enveloped by a virtually empty stadium while a bigger challenge awaited outside the stadium. The ceremony was addressed by speeches from the Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and the International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons. Both speeches highlighted the values which the Games were meant to represent – “an inspiration for true social change.”
Hashimoto said, “Para-athletes testify to our infinite potential as human beings, and to our power to go beyond our limits.” Along those lines, “It is up to each and every one of us to play our part every day to make a more inclusive society” added Parsons.
The stadium was lit up by fireworks and a performed inspired by Japanese karakuri mechanical puppetry, followed by the traditional parade of athletes. The flags for conflict-laden Afghanistan and New Zealand, which declined to participate pertaining to coronavirus concerns, were carried by the Paralympic staff. The Paralympic cauldron was lit by Japanese powerlifting champion Karin Morisaki, wheelchair tennis player Yui Kamiji and boccia player Shunsuke Uchida.
With this event, Tokyo becomes the first city to host the Paralympics twice which will host around 4000 athletes and 12,000 officials. No spectators will be in venues throughout the 13-day Games expect for some children attending through school programs.
However, the situation outside the stadium sparks concern. The COVID situation in Japan has deteriorated after the Olympics began a month ago. On an average, daily cases in Tokyo are around 4,700 as compared to 1,800 in late July. Hospitals have recorded more than 4000 COVID patients and around 25,000 are home-treated.
The Olympics recorded more infections among local volunteers, contractors and other domestic staffers than foreign athletes. Around 60,000 people who reside in Japan are expected to work during the Paralympics. On Sunday, organisers said they would ask domestic contractors and volunteers who work inside the athletes village to conduct daily PCR tests. The previous rule was set at every four days. Overseas athletes and officials will be asked to stay in a bubble even after 14 days, and refrain from using public transport.
Despite the concerns, Parsons insisted on hosting the Paralympics – the only major global event that puts differently-abled people in the spotlight. While they account for 15% of the global population, they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and hence, “they need their voices to be heard the most.”