‘It’s Rude Not To Stare’: Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

Lauren Bryant

Just a few weeks after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the buzz of the Games still very much alive, the Paralympics are officially underway. Over 12 days, around 4,400 athletes will compete across 22 sports, with more than 530 medals up for grabs. The excitement is, however, shrouded by fears over the athletes’ safety, with the nation’s capital experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases following the Olympics. 

The History of the Paralympic Movement

The catastrophic events of World War Two resulted in over 2 million soldiers returning home with some level of disability, including more than 40,000 amputees, in Britain alone. 

In 1948, German-Jewish neurologist, Dr Ludwig Guttmann revolutionised the rehabilitation of injured war veterans, igniting a global movement between disability and sport. On the 29th of July, he hosted the Stoke Mandeville Games, an archery competition involving 16 paralysed servicemen and women. Introducing recreational and competitive sport as a form of physiotherapy, Dr Guttmann proved to the world that they weren’t degenerate or “hopeless cases”, but remarkable athletes.  

In 1960, the first official Paralympics took place in Rome, Italy- formally named the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games

Only a decade later, in 1960, the first official Paralympics took place in Rome, Italy- formally named the 9th Annual International Stoke Mandeville Games. This comprised of 400 athletes from 23 nations, competing in eight different sports: table tennis, wheelchair fencing and basketball, archery, athletics, snooker, swimming, and a combination of darts and archery. During the closing ceremony, Dr Guttmann said: “The vast majority of competitors and escorts have fully understood the meaning of the Rome Games as a new pattern of reintegration of the paralysed into society, as well as the world of sport.”

Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Overview

Japan has become the first country ever to hold a second Paralympic games- hosting the 13th games in 1964. Although a historic moment for the home nation, raising fears over the capital’s sudden COVID-19 outbreak lingers amongst the ongoing excitement. Hidemasa Nakamura, delivery officer for Tokyo 2020, stated, “Looking at the medical situation, we cannot help but say we will hold the Paralympics in the middle of a very difficult situation.”

Although Tokyo’s current crisis cannot be ignored, we must try to enjoy the games and their celebration of extraordinary athletes

While the number of athletes and representatives travelling to Tokyo is less than a third of that during the Olympics, daily COVID-19 cases have soared to around 25,000 in the last week. This is a significant increase from the 15,000 cases reported just after the Olympic Closing Ceremony. Although Tokyo’s current crisis cannot be ignored, we must try to enjoy the games and their celebration of extraordinary athletes.  

Badminton and taekwondo both make their Paralympic debut in Tokyo. As the Game’s first full-contact sport, the rules of Para taekwondo will differ slightly from its Olympic counterpart. For health and safety reasons, kicks to the head are prohibited. Punches to the abdomen no longer count toward an athlete’s score. Instead, spinning or turn kicks can earn competitor’s extra points. Badminton athletes are divided into six classes: four standing, and two wheelchairs.

The Tokyo Paralympics will also see five new countries competing this year: the Maldives, Guyana, Bhutan, Paraguay, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. As the smallest country in Asia, the Maldives has a population of only 550,000. Their two athletes, Mohamed Mazin and Fathimath Ibrahim, will compete in the men’s and women’s 100m T11 for the visually impaired, and both will run with a guide. 

This prioritisation of inclusivity is also reflected in the addition of over 30 publicly out LGBTQ athletes at the Games- more than double that in Rio 2016. These comprise of at least three non-binary or neutral athletes, including American rower Laura Goodkind, and Australian track and field athletes, Robyn Lambird and Maz Strong. Embracing their true selves, these athletes are using their platforms to raise awareness for the LGBTQ+ community on a global scale. 

A roundup of Team GB’s Success So Far

It was a golden start to the games of Team GB. In the track cycling C5 3,000m individual pursuit, Dame Sarah Storey secured the teams’ first gold of the Games, kicking off her eighth Paralympics with a victory. Lee Pearson took his twelfth Paralympic title, winning gold in the dressage. Swimmers Maisie Summers-Newton and Tully Kearney both won gold, setting world records. Making a one-two finish, Jaco van Gass won gold in the men’s C3 3000m individual pursuit, ahead of team-mate Fin Graham. Wheelchair fencing saw Piers Gilliver win gold in men’s epee A, and Dimitri Coutya win bronze in the epee B. The medals were plenty on day three with Hannah Russell retaining her S12 100m backstroke title and Reece Dun winning gold in the S14 200m freestyle. The velodrome saw van Gass win bronze in the C1-3 100m time trial, and Kadeena Cox win gold in the C4-5 500m time trial.

Lauren Bryant

Featured image used courtesy of Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

In article image 1 courtesy of @paralympics via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

In article image 2 courtesy of @paralympicsgb_official via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

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