The Paralympics was held in Tokyo this year and has officially wrapped up just weeks ago. The stories of success, hard work and incredible competitive feats can still be seen almost everywhere you look. From mainstream media coverage to very social media feeds, the coverage these games garnered is second-to-none.
The success of the games is measurable beyond the sheer number of eyeballs it has attracted and even beyond the medals won, it has changed the world view of people with disability.
Since the first Paralympics in 1960, a lot has changed in our collective society when it comes to disability in general, but we argue that no other Paralympics has brought change quite like this year’s.
Let’s start with the host city of Tokyo.
Winning a bid for the Paralympics meant that not only did Tokyo need to invest heavily in their infrastructure (stadiums and all), but also had an opportunity to make hundreds of millions of dollars back. Financially, it’s shown that Olympic events can indeed garner serious financial incentives to host nations, but there’s more to it than even money.
Consider the train stations in Tokyo as an example.
A recent ABC report stated that ahead of the games, 96% of train stations around Japan were made barrier-free, or step-free. Improvements like these obviously make transport hubs more accessible to people with disability, but they also create a long-standing effect on the community at large. They create change in the way the community views and interacts with people with disability. They garner a longer-term mental shift that brings communities in the region ever closer, giving those without disability a better understanding of the needs of those living with disability.
Looking deeper, we find people like Chihiro Yamada, a Japanese YouTuber whose channel has 110K + subscribers. Chihiro lost his legs and an arm in a train incident 9 years ago and is now a disability advocate and their videos are viewed millions of times each year. Chihiro’s hope is that “We can live in a world where everybody can accept each other despite their sex, nationality or whether they have a disability.” His hopes link closely to the games’ vision – Unity in Diversity.
Chihiros YouTube Channel is, broadcast in Japanese, so unless you can read or understand the language, you might struggle to keep track, but his messages are clear and consistent. His advocacy is gaining traction in Japan and much of it is now uplifted by the Paralympics held in his home city.
It wasn’t just the games themselves or indeed the host nation who were catalysts for such change in the world, the athletes themselves made history in many ways.
If you, like us, were glued to your TV at every spare moment, you’d have noticed the determination and grit of every competitor. This determination turned many into household names whether they were medallists or not, but just look to the surface and you’ll see their impact.
For Aussies, one of the most visible moments was perhaps Dylan Alcott’s tear-jerking interview after his victory in tennis. Alcott became the first ever Golden Slam winner in his sport alongside Dutch female tennis star Diede de Groot who also won her Golden Slam*. The reach Dylan’s post-match interview got is almost unparalleled, and the sentiment behind it is truly one for change.
During the interview, Dylan said that the Paralympics “saved his life” and continued with:
“I’m so thankful and grateful that it (the Paralympics) came into my life, and that I can perform on this big stage … and change perceptions along the way of what people think about us, people with disabilities.
“Not every person with a disability can be a Paralympian, but they can be a doctor, a lawyer, a mum, a dad, a teacher, an educator, a politician, whatever it is; but they don’t often get the opportunities that we’ve got here to play sport.”
It’s here that we see the wider reaching change athletes like Dylan are working for – true inclusivity, no matter what’s your situation.
Lastly, we’d like to salute media outlets around the world for making the games a highlight of 2021 for so many.
Here in Australia, the Seven Network had stations airing the games around the clock, putting the Paralympics in front of millions of people who would otherwise not get an opportunity to see the greatness it featured.
The ratings reported from the network show it was third in line behind their most-watched shows: The Voice and Home and Away! While also beating out other major shows like The Block in the ratings. This alone gives you an idea of just how much impact mainstream media can have when it comes to awareness and understanding.
Looking beyond our borders also shows massive consumption of all that the Paralympics have to offer. World renowned German Heavy Metal band Rammstein scored the official trailer for the German Paralympic team. The YouTube video alone has been watched more than 675,000 times. It’s a beautifully created film and well worth a watch:
As an Official Supporter of the Australian Paralympic Team, we’re incredibly proud to have been part of something so unique and so powerful. And, when the 2024 Paralympics kicks off, we’re certain that the world will be an even better place for people with disability – just imagine how far we can all go in 3 years.
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*A Golden Slam is when a player wins all four major tennis events and a gold medal in the same year