Implement thorough safety measures for athletes at Tokyo Paralympics

Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool via REUTERS
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Seiko Hashimoto, President of Tokyo 2020, Andrew Parsons, IPC President and Tamayo Marukawa, Minister of State for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, speak during a four-party meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo, Japan August 16, 2021.

The Tokyo Paralympics will kick off on Aug. 24 without spectators at any of the competition venues, as part of measures to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic. Utmost efforts must be made to conduct the Games safely.

A maximum of about 4,400 athletes from approximately 160 countries and regions are scheduled to participate, and competitions in 22 sports will be held in four prefectures — Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka.

The spread of the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant in Tokyo has led to an explosive increase in new infection cases, creating a situation more severe than at the start of the Olympics. The areas covered by a state of emergency will be expanded.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga initially expressed his intention to allow spectators into venues. Under the current circumstances, however, it would be difficult to obtain public understanding of this wish. The decision to hold the Paralympics without spectators was inevitable.

It is regrettable to lose the opportunity to see in person the culmination of athletes’ training and effort, but people are also encouraged to loudly cheer for this sports festival for the disabled through TV screens and other media.

At the Olympics, the lack of cheering from spectators made the breathing of the athletes and the sound of their bodies colliding with each other stand out even more. The excitement can surely be sensed even via a screen.

Although the flow of people around venues can be restrained because there will be no spectators, more minute anti-infection measures than for the Olympics are essential for the Paralympic athletes, officials and other related people.

Athletes with respiratory and other diseases who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they are infected with the virus will participate in the Games. Measures need to be taken in keeping with specific disabilities and competitions, such as thorough disinfection of areas often touched during transportation, wheelchairs and artificial legs.

During the Olympic Games, many domestic contractors who often visited the athletes village and elsewhere tested positive for the coronavirus. Some athletes went shopping outside the athletes village. Reflecting on these cases, it is important to review coronavirus control measures once again.

Although the general public will not be allowed to enter the venues, a school cooperative program will be implemented. Students at schools taking part in the program will be able to watch the competitions at venues.

One purpose of hosting the Tokyo Games was to deepen children’s understanding of the value of sports and diversity by having kids watch Olympic and Paralympic competitions in person. The Paralympic Games are particularly significant, as they provide a golden opportunity to foster awareness among children of an inclusive society.

The Tokyo metropolitan government plans to transport students on chartered buses between their schools and competition venues to prevent infections. However, some local governments are considering withdrawing from the program due to concerns over the recent infection situation.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games needs to hold the Paralympics without confusion, while respecting the intentions of local governments, and of the parents and guardians of students.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 19, 2021.