The countdown to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is already underway, and something I’m really enthused about.
It really doesn’t seem that far away – the event is running from 25 August to 6 September 2020 – and tickets will be on sale soon.
To mark the 500 day countdown, a special event was held in Toyosu in April, with participants able to try wheelchair basketball, wheelchair marathon, triathlon and badminton, and get up close to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic torch.
This celebratory atmosphere gives hope that the tide is turning now, with the emphasis very much on what para-athletes can do, rather than what they can’t. Watching some of the promotional material around the games is inspirational. The message is to take note of what para-athletes can achieve.
Getting people involved and making the games engaging and relatable is important – clearly you don’t have to be disabled yourself to enjoy watching para-athletics and to feel inspired by the achievements of athletes with a disability.
The epitome of this is an advert for the Rio 2016 Paralympics which showed para-athletes pitching up at gyms and classes and joining in with activities with able-bodied people. The reactions of the able-bodied as it dawns on them that these athletes are a force to be reckoned with are priceless. “When you see a paralympic athlete up close, words can’t explain it,” it says. You can take a look at the video here.
Each of these events creates their own legacy and serves to change attitudes towards ability and disability.
In fact, my experience at the London 2012 Paralympics where I volunteered as a games maker inspired me to set up my charity Kit Us Out. While volunteering, I was deeply impressed by the sense of occasion, camaraderie and inclusiveness, but shocked to learn that many athletes from developing countries often did not have adequate kit to help them reach their potential.
This went against the grain of such a special and welcoming event, and I, along with a couple of other volunteers saw an urgent need for our charity to start to redress the balance.
The mission of Kit Us Out is to create a level playing field for paralympic sport by providing competition level kit to all. We are now supplying kit to para-athletes from all over the world – last year we supplied kit for training courses in Ecuador and Ethiopia, serving para-athletes from all over South America and Africa.
My hope is that incrementally, the work of charities such as ours and raising awareness of the issues will change attitudes permanently for the better.