Paralympic Games athletes’ fears grow over Covid-19 threat as situation spirals in Japan with concerns over vulnerable participants
- The Paralympics Games are set to kick-off on 24 August in Tokyo, Japan
- The nation’s Covid cases are at an all-time high after this summer’s Olympics
- With the situation worsening, concerns are growing for the athletes’ heath
The prospect of the Tokyo Paralympics is severely testing the patience of the Japanese public, with Covid-19 cases at a new high and politicians warning that the timing could not be worse.
The event is expected to attract a global TV audience of 4.25 billion — bigger than any in its 61-year history.
It will get huge UK exposure from Channel 4 coverage which, unlike the BBC Olympics output, will include elements hosted from Tokyo.
The 2020 Paralympic Games are set to kick-off on Tuesday amid growing Covid concern
But Japan’s fifth Covid wave is now so severe that Tokyo authorities are considering converting the Tokyo 2020 swimming and badminton venues into emergency medical facilities when competition is over.
Even some of the nation’s Paralympians are calling the event into question.
Takanori Yokosawa, a politician and former Winter Paralympics sit ski athlete, said the Games carry a level of risk higher than the Olympics because of the greater need for physical contact.
Yokosawa said: ‘Since Paralympic athletes need to rely on the support of others, it’s inevitable that they come into physical contact with others more often than Olympic athletes and therefore expose themselves to a greater risk of infection.’
There are concerns for the athletes themselves. Boccia, the sport similar to lawn bowls which was initially devised for those with cerebral palsy, is played by athletes with severe physical disabilities, some of whom have weaker immune systems.
The nation’s Covid fifth wave is causing a record number of cases just days before the Games
The Japan Boccia Association said at the weekend that although there is no evidence that patients with cerebral palsy were particularly at risk of severe illness from Covid, competitors were aware of the need to be vigilant.
One Japanese opinion poll last week revealed lukewarm support, with 20.9 per cent calling for postponement just a week out from tomorrow’s opening ceremony.
Four athletes have tested positive so far.
But the number of contractors and Games staff to have done so since early August is more than 100, with a total of 30 new cases confirmed yesterday.
The event’s delivery officer, Hidemasa Nakamura, has hinted a tightening of the testing regime may be needed.
The hope for organisers is that when the 13-day event begins, fears will be assuaged.
Boccia is played by Paralympians with cerebral palsy and their immune system could be at risk
With new sports of taekwondo and badminton being added, the Paralympics will attract around 4,400 athletes from 164 countries.
ParalympicsGB will field 227 athletes, including guides, in 19 of the 22 sports.
International Paralympics Committee president Andrew Parsons now insists that the standard of sporting achievement and the size of the audience are no longer the most important factors.
He said: ‘The No 1 principle for this Games is the safety and wellbeing of everyone.
‘We don’t feel the presence of the Paralympics here will have a direct impact on raising the number of cases.’