Tokyo Paralympics to close after facing COVID-19 challenges
Written by tokyoclub on September 5, 2021
The Tokyo Paralympics will close Sunday night after almost two weeks of physical feats by athletes with impairments from around the world, the event held despite numerous challenges created by the coronavirus.
The closing ceremony at the National Stadium will bring down the curtain on the games held almost entirely off-limits to the public as a result of the pandemic that threw eight years of preparations into disarray.
As was the case with the Olympics that ended Aug. 8, the ceremony will go ahead in front of a sea of empty seats, with only a certain number of officials and dignitaries, including Japanese Crown Prince Fumihito and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, set to attend.
Notwithstanding additional difficulties, such as COVID-19 travel protocols, a record of approximately 4,400 athletes from 162 countries and regions, plus a small refugee team, competed at the Paralympics from Aug. 24.
Hossain Rasouli of Afghanistan competes in the men’s T47 long jump event at the Tokyo Paralympics at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Aug. 31, 2021. (Kyodo)
They included two competitors evacuated from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, who made their eventual arrival in Tokyo thanks to a multinational effort.
Following an unprecedented one-year postponement, uncertainty had lingered about whether the Olympics and Paralympics could be held safely amid rising COVID-19 cases in Japan and across the world.
The public was split over the decision by organizers to plow ahead with staging the games this summer, with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga abruptly announcing Friday plans to resign after facing criticism for his government’s handling of the health crisis.
To stop the spread of the virus, delegations were virtually confined to the athletes’ village and sports venues, with foreign participants required to leave Japan soon after their final events.
Despite the raft of scandals that beset the Olympics leading up to the opening ceremony on July 23, the two games had no major operational troubles over the more than one month period.
But the number of new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and other parts of Japan hit record highs multiple times during and after the Olympics, while the organizers have managed to keep the infection rate among athletes and workers very low.
Members of the Japanese women’s wheelchair basketball team celebrate after defeating Australia in the preliminary round of the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 25, 2021, at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo
Since mid-August, about 300 people associated with the Paralympics tested positive for COVID-19, most of whom were Japanese residents and contractors.
At the closing ceremony, the Paralympic flag will be passed to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo as representative of the 2024 Summer Games in the French capital, before the cauldron in the 68,000-capacity main venue is extinguished.
China, which will host the Beijing Winter Games in February, is top of the medal table by a big margin, followed by Britain, the Russian Paralympic Committee and the United States, with some events remaining on the final day.
The Paralympics consisted of 539 medal events across 22 sports. Taekwondo and badminton were added to the games for the first time.
After failing to win a single gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, Japan put on a strong showing as host nation, with its largest-ever team of 254 athletes winning 10 gold, 14 silver and 19 bronze as of Saturday
Japan’s Miyuki Yamada finishes second in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S2 final at the Tokyo Paralympics on Aug. 25, 2021, at Tokyo Aquatics Centre, making her the host country’s first medalist of the games. (Kyodo)
Miyuki Yamada won the host nation’s first medal on the opening day of competition, taking silver in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S2 class and becoming the youngest Japanese ever to reach the Paralympic podium at just 14.
While the games were mostly held behind closed doors, students involved in a government-supported educational initiative were allowed to spectate some events.
But some municipalities decided at the last minute not to participate due to concerns about the coronavirus.