The 2016 Paralympic Games concluded almost exactly a month ago on
Sept. 18, with Rio de Janeiro passing the host’s baton to Tokyo.
The Rio Paralympics have been widely lauded for defying expectations,
after the buildup to the games was dominated by headlines about
funding shortfalls, potentially empty stadiums and even the
possibility of national teams being stranded in their home countries
without promised support grants.
However, there was disappointment for Japan, which for the first time
in its Paralympic history failed to win a gold medal. While Japan had
set a target of 40 medals, including 10 gold, it struggled to make
just over half that number. Although Japanese Paralympians took home
24 medals, 10 silver and 14 bronze — including its first ever medal in
mixed wheelchair rugby — the country only placed 64th in the final
Speaking before the Rio Paralympic closing ceremony, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko
Koike mentioned funding issues.
“In the Olympic and Paralympic Games it seems there are budget
overruns occurring everywhere,” she said.
Koike is already making waves as she scans the books for possible cuts
to bring down the ever-ballooning cost of the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo,
but the new governor has tried to assure athletes that their financial
support is secure.
“If anything, we would like to earmark budget for training for
athletes, to focus on athlete-first thinking,” she said.
While Koike’s remarks on “athlete-first thinking” may be encouraging,
worries about “budget overruns” are sure to be a concern to the Japan
Paralympic Committee, particularly after funds meant for the Rio
Paralympics were basically pilfered to pay for the Olympics this year.
It is very difficult to train and support athletes capable of winning
medals without spending a lot of money, and on this issue, Japan might
learn a lot from Britain, a country with half Japan’s population yet a
giant in terms of Paralympic success. The home country of the London
2012 Paralympics placed third at those games with 34 gold, 43 silver
and 43 bronze medals. At the 2016 Games, Britain bettered this,
finishing second in the country standings with 64 gold, 39 silver and
One of the reasons for Britain’s success was that in December 2012, UK
Sport, a funding body, announced a record amount of investment ahead
of the Rio Games — a 43 percent increase in funding for Paralympic
athletes, which worked out in real terms as £70.2 million (¥8.9
While money may not always translate to medals, it’s worth comparing
and contrasting the figure above, which applies only to Paralympic
athletes, to the increase in funding for all athletes — Paralympic and
Olympic — offered in Japan earlier this year.
“In fiscal 2016, government subsidies to sporting bodies provided
through the Japan Sport Council topped ¥1.42 billion — leaping about
35 percent from the previous fiscal year,” reported the Mainichi. “And
from this fiscal year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched a
system covering a portion of equipment and tour expenses for
Looking ahead to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and reading about the
preparations already being made, I have been struck by how much
attention is already being paid to plans to improve accessibility for
disabled people. Koike commented on those plans at the aforementioned
Rio Paralympic press conference.
“We have developed roads that are too narrow. This is a legacy of
Tokyo. Furthermore, the doorways are not wide, the ceilings are low in
some typical housing. As we welcome athletes as well as spectators
from all over the world at the venues, we must overcome these
challenges,” she said, according to the Asahi. “I’d like to expand the
width of the roads by doing away with the utility poles so we can
provide accessibility to everyone.”
It is, of course, very important to highlight the need to improve
access for disabled people and to constantly review those
improvements. When it comes to accessibility, four years away from
Tokyo 2020, I do feel that Japan is doing a lot more than Britain did
so far in advance of its home games. The Japanese national government
and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced plans to improve
access to the public transport system as early as 2013.
However, I find myself, as a disabled person, in the odd position of
thinking that too much attention is being paid to accessibility while
issues surrounding attitudes toward disabled people in Japan are being
The recent killing of 19 disabled people at the Tsukui Yamayuri En
care home in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, underscored the need for
Japan to address and challenge its culture of shame with regards to
disability. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is a chance for Japan to not
just sort out roads and facilities, but also to begin a kind of
national conversation about how Japan thinks of and treats people with
As Gov. Koike said: “Barrier-free facilities are by all means
important, but I believe that a barrier-free mind is equally vital.” I
share her hope that Japan will develop a “barrier-free mind” in time
for the 2020 Games.
Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic living in Kobe. His e-book
“Gaijin Story: Tales of a British Disabled Man in Japan” is available
on Amazon. Foreign Agenda offers a forum for opinion on issues related
to life in Japan. Comments and story ideas: commun...@japantimes.co.jp
Doctoral student at Centre for Law and Governance JNU
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