New facilities to carry on Tokyo Paralympics legacy

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Takeru Matsumoto runs a qualifying heat in the men’s 100 meters at the Tokyo Paralympics in September last year.

Japanese athletes came away from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics with a near-record number of medals, providing the momentum to establish a better training environment for para-athletes that will serve as a legacy of the Games.

While the success sparked increased interest in the Paralympics, it came against a background in which many domestic athletes with disabilities struggle to find places to practice.

To rectify this problem, two new facilities will be built in Tokyo, while an ice skating rink accessible to para-athletes will also be created.

The Edogawa ward government has plans for a new sports facility not only for athletes with disabilities but that can also be used by children and the elderly. After having discussions with local residents, the ward hopes to finalize a development plan by the end of March next year.

Courtesy of the Tokyo metropolitan government
Artist’s image of the Metropolitan Para-sports Training Center to be built in Chofu

The ward has a sports-friendly environment, with a river for canoeing, a horseback riding ground and an athletic stadium. Using these facilities, the ward government has made it possible to experience all 22 Tokyo Paralympic events since 2020.

The efforts have been well received by children and sports organizations. The ward has a conceptual plan to transform the entire ward into a “para-sports town,” centered on the new facility while also making existing facilities more convenient.

“Our aim is for the ward to be an inclusive society for the disabled,” Edogawa Ward Mayor Takeshi Saito said.

The Tokyo metropolitan government will open a para-sports training center at Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu by the end of March 2023.

In Tokyo, there are sports centers with gymnasiums and heated swimming pools in Kita Ward and Kunitachi that can be used by the disabled, but as they are often used for individual rehabilitation programs, the number of total users exceeds 270,000 a year. It is difficult to make a reservation, making it hard for sports groups and athletes to use them on a daily basis.

The new Metropolitan Para-sports Training Center will have a large gymnasium for team sports such as wheelchair basketball and goalball, as well as rooms for sports with smaller numbers of participants such as table tennis. The metropolitan government is considering giving priority for group use.

“We would like to nurture the next generation of top athletes who can excel in international competitions, while also aiming to expand the base of participants,” said an official of the metropolitan government’s Bureau of Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 Preparation.

Courtesy of the Tokyo metropolitan government
Artist’s image of the tentatively named Tokyo Tatsumi Ice Arena in Koto Ward, slated to open in fiscal 2025

The Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center in Koto Ward — the venue for water polo at the Tokyo Olympics — will be renovated and reopen as the tentatively named Tokyo Tatsumi Ice Arena in fiscal 2025.

The main rink will be 60 meters long and 30 meters wide and available for figure skating, ice hockey and curling, with plans for holding international winter para-sports events.

“It is rare that part of the legacy of the Summer Games will become that for winter sports,” said Koto Ward Mayor Takaaki Yamazaki, who had been calling for renovation of the facility.

Lack of facilities

The 51 medals won by Japan at the Tokyo Paralympics fell just short of the 52 at the 2004 Athens Games, but far exceeded the 24 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

After the Tokyo Games, the metropolitan government held an event to allow disabled people to try para-sports and perhaps find a future star. The event was a great success, drawing 138 participants, more than double the number from the previous year.

That said, in a survey conducted by the Paralympians Association of Japan last summer on athletes from the 2020 Tokyo and the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympics, more than 30% of the 169 respondents answered “I have no place to practice,” and the same percentage answered “It’s hard to commute.”

Takeru Matsumoto, a resident of Edogawa Ward, is among those struggling. The 20-year-old with cerebral palsy competed in the men’s 100 meters and other events at the Tokyo Paralympics. He traveled more than an hour by train to a metropolitan facility in Kita Ward before switching to working out on a riverside area close to his home.

He brings about 10 kilograms of equipment with him, and footing is poor on the riverside, putting him in danger of falling when he runs.

“It will be nice to have a facility nearby that I can use without a hassle,” Matsumoto said.