By Lydia O’Kane
Just like the Olympic Games, the 2020 Paralympics kicks off in Toyko on Tuesday under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 Paralympics amid pandemic
The organizers of the event have said the Games will be held under “very difficult" circumstances as cases have risen sharply since the end of the Olympics on August 8.
In order to control the spread of the virus, organisers have said they plan to implement the same COVID-19 protocols as the ones used during the Olympics.
The Paralympics which get underway Tuesday and end September 5, will generally take place without spectators, and athletes are being asked to limit their movements.
According to International Paralympic Committee spokesperson Craig Spence, around 88% of athletes and officials attending the Games have been vaccinated.
These Games will see athletes competing in 540 events over 22 sports. The 2020 Summer Paralympics will also see the introduction of badminton and taekwondo, replacing sailing and 7-a-side football.
“We see in Paralympic sport…how athletes give the very best of themselves, overcoming limitations” whether it be from birth or caused from accidents or illnesses, said Mons Melchor Sanchez de Toca, Undersecretary at the Pontifical Council for Culture with responsibility for sport.
“It’s not by chance that in Rio the global audience of the Paralympic Games was higher than the Olympic Games,” he noted.
Asked if Paralympians can inspire others with disabilities to reach their potential and goals, Mons Sanchez de Toca said, “Sport is still one of the greatest sources of inspiration for many people and that is especially true of the Paralympic sport. I personally know Paralympian athletes who decided to try to do sport by watching other Paralympic athletes’ performances on TV.”
Pope Frances and sport
Speaking about the support given by the Pope to those involved in sport in general, Monsignor Sanchez de Toca said Pope Francis has been a great supporter of Paralympic athletes and addressed a message to those taking part in the Rio Games in 2016. He also received in audience the board of the International Paralympic Committee. “But one of the key words in Pope Francis’ teaching,” he noted, “is inclusion”. “Sport is for all, and includes people with physical or mental disabilities.”
Sign of hope
Addressing the disruption wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic on athletes preparing for both the Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Mons Sanchez de Toca said that for Paralympic athletes, upheaval caused by the pandemic has been “twice as difficult” for them, but added that he and his Dicastery were looking to the Paralympic Games with “great hope” because they are “necessary to inspire many people with disabilities”.