By Paul Jones
Athletes hoping to make next year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo should be encouraged by other sports proving they can adapt in the era of coronavirus – according to Paralympic chief Andrew Parsons.
With the one-year countdown to the Games starting this week, the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) President Andrew Parsons has insisted that developing a Covid-19 vaccine is not a deal-breaker for the Games to go ahead.
On August 24, 2021, the Paralympic Games are set to get under way and run until September 5 while the Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 23 and conclude on August 8.
Four years ago, 26 Welsh Paralympians went to Rio de Janeiro – an impressive 10 per cent of the overall Great Britain team – and a similar sized number have realistic hopes of heading to Japan.
Having already had their opportunity delayed by 12 months, there is still no guarantee that either the Paralympics or Olympic Games will go ahead next summer, but Parsons says he has been encouraged by football and basketball’s ability to return during the pandemic.
“I am positive about the possibility of having the Games next year,” he said in an interview with the Inside The Games website.
“I think that some of the sport events going on round the world at this moment like the UEFA Champions League, the NBA (National Basketball Association) and other football leagues gives encouragement because we are also learning from that and what they are doing.
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“Of course we know the difference in the size and magnitude of the events – in the Paralympics we have 4,350 athletes which is different from eight football teams in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in Portugal.
“But there are some concepts that I think we can learn from them.”
Parsons said he was “positive but realistic” about the Games going ahead without the development of a vaccine next year.
“When people say ‘we need a vaccine’ – I think what we need is to say we need to have the virus controlled, we need to have the pandemic under control,” he said.
“Of course the vaccine will be the ultimate solution – or rather the vaccines, because you have multiple organisations trying to come up with them.
“But we may have scenarios where, because of the natural development of the pandemic, the numbers will go down.
“And when we take counter-measures we will be able to provide a safe environment for the athletes and everyone involved in the Games.
“So I think when people talk about the vaccine, yes, the vaccine is the strongest solution. But I think the concept is a little bit wrong.
“We need to have the virus, the pandemic, under control, or even better we need to provide a safe and healthy environment for the athletes and everyone involved in the Games.
“Some other measures can help in a scenario where we don’t have as many cases around the world as we have now.
“But without the vaccine, could we hold the Paralympics Opening Ceremony tomorrow? The answer is no of course.
“With the level of the pandemic in the world it is impossible to think of organising and holding events like the Paralympics in the current circumstances.
“We are planning for every possible scenario – when it comes to the Games, when it comes to what will happen with the Paralympic Movement in the case that we don’t have the Games. So I am positive, but realistic.”
Since the postponement of the Games, the governing body for the Paralympic movement has worked hard to try to bring down the expenditure of the event.
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— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) April 11, 2020
“We are now re-planning every single operation and trying to find where we can reduce costs,” Parsons explained.
“It is about reducing costs, reducing the operation. Not touching the athletes’ experience – that is one of the principles agreed with all parties – but the other stakeholders, federations and media, sponsors, everyone will feel in some way the downsizing of the Games.
“It will be less sophisticated but the bright side of it is this is a blueprint for the future. We needed to bring the Games to cost less, we need to attract more cities for the Games so I always look to positives and I believe this is a worthwhile exercise.”
Different scenarios have been drawn up by the IPC regarding qualification for Tokyo, with several events cancelled due to the pandemic.