It was with some pride and much relief that Tokyo bid farewell to their delayed Summer Olympic Games in August 8. But that was actually just the first half of their city’s international multi-sporting obligations this year. There is still the Summer Paralympics, the counterpart event featuring athletes with various physical disabilities. From a small athletic gathering of disabled British WWII veterans in 1948, to its official start in 1960, the Paralympics sought to elevate parasports and handicapped athletes to Olympian dignity, even using the same facilities as Olympic Games since 1988. The start of the Tokyo Paralympics this past Tuesday featured international solidarity, and challenges for the Philippine delegation.
CNN Philippines reports that the similarly-delayed 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo held its opening ceremony on August 24, a mere 16 days after the Summer Olympics ended. The capital of Japan, still reeling from COVID infections arguably intensified by the previous games, can still be proud of being the first city to host the Summer Paralympics twice (last in 1964). International Paralmypic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons admitted during his opening address his fears that this event would be cancelled, adding, “But thanks to the efforts of many, the most transformative sport event on Earth is about to begin.”
The Philippines was also on the parade, Tokyo 2020 being their eighth Paralympics participation. It was also a poignant occasion, seeing as their original six-athlete lineup lost Achelle Guion (women’s power-lifting), who along with three other delegation members tested positive for COVID-19. The Filipino determination to go on was exemplified by flag-bearer Jerrold Mangliwan (men’s wheelchair raising), who held the Philippine flag in his left hand while raising his right with a clenched fist in the air. Only two other Pinoy Paralympians were able to join him for the march.
One more international poignant moment in the Paralympic parade of nations was the display of the flag of Afghanistan, which officially withdrew from participation in August 16, when the government collapsed following the seizure of the capital Kabul by a resurgent Taliban that has reclaimed control over the country. While thousands of Afghans have fled the regime, the participant Paralympians have been left behind, sending messages calling for assistance to travel via social media, particularly the female athletes who fear being targeted by the Taliban.
All told, the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics have 161 National Paralympic Committees participating, with each fielding at least one athlete for a total of over 4,000 Paralympians competing in 22 sports with 539 individual events. It will run until September 5. So far, the Philippines has only won two Paralympic bronze medals (2000, 2016) since its first participation in Seoul 1988.
Image courtesy of Inquirer.net – Sports