Paralympics a valuable chance to deepen understanding about disabilities

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Miki Matheson during an online interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun

International Paralympic Committee board member Miki Matheson has high hopes that the Beijing Winter Paralympic Games, which kick off Friday night, will be an event that showcases sporting excellence and deepens understanding about people with disabilities.

“I want these Games to not only convey the appeal of parasports, but also to help cultivate a better understanding of people who have a disability,” Matheson said to The Yomiuri Shimbun in an online interview.

Matheson, 48, has been a wheelchair user since a traffic accident when she was a university student. She won four Olympic medals as a para athlete, including three golds in ice sledge racing at the 1998 Nagano Winter Paralympics. Matheson was chosen as an IPC board member in December 2021.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Paralympian Momoka Muraoka skis down a slope during training at Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in China on Thursday.

“The Paralympics are a valuable opportunity for elite athletes to show their incredible skills,” said Matheson, who emphasized that the enhanced level of athletes at the Paralympics puts the competition at the pinnacle of sporting events.

Matheson played several prominent roles at last year’s Tokyo Summer Paralympics. She carried Japan’s national flag during the opening ceremony, and she was the first woman to be deputy chef de mission of the Japanese delegation.

“I was involved in the Tokyo Paralympics in many ways. Although it was very unfortunate that spectators could not attend, many athletes set new records and the countries that won many medals were impressive,” she said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Parasports are thriving in many countries around the world. As an IPC Governing Board member, Matheson hopes the momentum continues at the Beijing Winter Paralympics.

After Matheson retired from competitive sport, she helped educate people about the Paralympics and has been engaged in other activities to help make society more inclusive. Matheson, who lives in Canada, is the only Japanese member on the IPC board.

“I had been acquiring experience that I hoped would eventually allow me to become a candidate. The timing was unexpected, though,” Matheson said. “But perhaps there are things I can do in this role.”

The mental health of athletes has become the focus of increased attention. This was recently exemplified by an apology posted on the Instagram social media platform by ski jumper Sara Takanashi, who was disqualified from the mixed-team event at the Beijing Winter Games.

According to Matheson, para athletes face the same problems. “Athletes are under a lot of stress, which the coronavirus pandemic has compounded. Some delegations of Western countries are including more specialists to provide athletes with psychological support,” she said, expressing hope that the IPC will actively urge organizations to devote more resources to caring for athletes’ mental health.