Opening of the Paralympics with empty stands, but a bigger stage


TOKYO – One Paralympic the swimmer ended up training in the chilly Arkansas River for some time after a coronavirus pandemic cut off her access to the pool.

Another borrowed a swimming bench, set it up in her Minnesota garage, and simulated her blows against the resistance of a pulley system. That was the closest she could push through the water.

And in Cardiff, Wales, the ball-throwing champion improvised by stringing a load net between apple and pear trees so he could safely practice in the backyard of his new home.

Months later, those three athletes – Sophia Herzog,, Mallory Weggemann i Aled Sion Davies – About 4,400 other competitors joined in Tokyo for the 16th Summer Paralympic Games, which open on Tuesday. Like the thousands of Olympians who competed here a few weeks ago, the Paralympians will take to the pitches, pitches and courses with a delay of one year, without spectators and under threat of contagion which, at least according to television ratings, has diminished many other major sporting events in the last year and a half.

The Paralympic Games, however, could be a rare athletic spectacle that reaches significantly higher levels of engagement during a pandemic, accelerating momentum in a way that old guard sports cannot. The unrest caused by the multiple blockades, along with the cultural democratization shaped by social media, has intensified the change in values ​​and tastes, especially among young people, highlighting the neglected and underestimated.

Darlene Hunter, a U.S. wheelchair-bound basketball player who teaches disability issues at the University of Texas at Arlington, said recently that in the five years since the last Summer Paralympics, in Rio de Janeiro, she has seen a growing interest in and understanding of the Games . Earlier, she routinely had to explain what the Paralympic Games and her team’s gold medal in 2016 meant.

“People know what it is now,” Hunter said as she prepared to go to her third Games. “People are talking about it. People hear it like no other time. “

Significant changes in the last five years include parity in cash for U.S. Paralympic medalists, who once received one-fifth of what their Olympic counterparts received ($ 37,500 for a gold medal, $ 22,500 for a silver and $ 15,000 for a bronze), and an increase coverage by television and streaming services. That availability was driven in part by the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to waive rights fees in dozens of sub-Saharan African countries and to help create coverage for broadcasters there.

NBCUniversal, a long-standing Olympic and Paralympic network in the United States, has committed to 1,200 hours of coverage on its television channels and streaming platforms, after presenting just 70 hours from Brazil in 2016 and five and a half from the 2012 London Games. It will also include the first monitoring of the Paralympic Games in prime time on the main channel of NBC, spread over four hours in the three most important shows.

And as another sign of the rise of adaptive sports for people with disabilities, the U.S. Olympic Committee has become the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“We’re here,” Jessica Long said. a swimmer who won 13 gold medals and will compete in her fifth Paralympic Games, he told The New York Times when the name change was announced in 2019.

Yet resources for Paralympians, from media coverage to sponsorship deals, are hard to come close to Olympians. The main cave press in Tokyo these days is a desert, and searches for Paralympic news on the Internet mostly bring news from the organizers of the Games. And while the cash prize is equal for American athletes, some benefits are not.

With banned spectators from Tokyo, the USOPC organized parties for two relatives or friends per athlete. Four Olympic rallies were held, each lasting five days, but only one was scheduled for the Paralympic Games. After some Paralympians and members of their family noticed the deviation, they said that another party to watch was added.

The standard for the Tokyo Paralympic Games would be the London 2012 Paralympic Games. which surpassed the BBC for competition rights.

On the last day of the London Olympics, presumably the main attractions of that summer, Channel 4 they set up billboards all over the city to promote the Paralympic Games. “Thanks for warming up,” they said.

At the time, people with disabilities made up about 50 percent of the channel monitoring team. For the Tokyo Games, the share for Channel 4 is estimated at just over 70 percent.

“They made a revolution in British television,” said Craig Spence, head of communications at the International Paralympic Committee. “Prior to that reporting on London 2012, we didn’t really see people with disabilities in TV shows or news anchors. Now you know. Every other broadcaster in the UK has realized that they are up to something. ”

That kind of acceptance has not always been part of the history of the Paralympic Games, not least after the Soviet Union refused to host the parallel Games with its 1980 Moscow Olympics, allegedly after a senior Russian official claimed there were no invalids in the country. Paralympic Games moved to the Netherlands that year. Now there is an award-winning film about them.

Rising Phoenix, “The Netflix documentary, which focused on the nine Paralympics in 2016, was produced by Greg Nugent, marketing director for the London Paralympics, and Tatyana McFadden, a six-time U.S. Paralympian who is also one of the movie stars.

Nugent said he partially shot the film in hopes that the Paralympics would seem necessary, not as an event that could succeed in one city, only to falter four years later in the next.

“I wanted to make it morally impossible for any future organizing committee to basically make a judgment that Paras will be less than the Olympics,” he said.

His concern was confirmed as the 2016 Games approached. As political and economic turmoil gripped Brazil, organizers in Rio considered holding only the Olympics. Government rescue assistance allowed the Paralympic Games to continue, but three weeks before the Games, only 12 percent of tickets were sold.

McFadden and Nugent have launched a campaign called “Fill in the seats” to buy Paralympic tickets for Brazilian students, with promotional and financial support from Prince Harry and the band Coldplay. In the end, however, there was a crowd in Rio, the Brazilians won 14 gold medals, and the film collected two sports Emmys.

The Tokyo Paralympic Games will start under a very different cloud, and also under a new umbrella.

On Thursday night, just days before the grand opening, more than 125 sights around the world – including Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo i Empire State Building in New York – they were bathed in purple, which had long represented the disability community. The exhibition marked the beginning of a ten-year anti-discrimination campaign led by several organizations, including the International Paralympic Committee.

A campaign called WeThe15, which covers an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population that has some form of impairment, formed a coalition of groups that often had very different agendas.

“We’ve seen other movements like LBGTQ, the Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement,” Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, told the Associated Press last week, “and we need a similar movement for people with disabilities.”

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