Australia’s Paralympians cross fingers ahead of Tokyo

Paralympic Education Program launch
Paralympians Eliza Ault-Connell and Scott Reardon (Photo: Laura Baehny)

Australia’s Paralympians are training hard ahead of the Tokyo Games – but the possibility of the Olympics and Paralympics being cancelled because of coronavirus (COVID-19) is rarely far from their minds.

Amid mounting concerns about the spread of the disease, Japan on Thursday (Feb 27) announced a month-long closure of all schools following the reporting of 210 cases in the country, including four deaths.

Lynne Anderson, CEO of Paralympics Australia, said at the launch of the Paralympic Education Program this week: “At the moment, we continue with business as usual. But we are very much on alert. We talk at least daily, probably more, about [it] … because it is moving so quickly.”

She added: “For people with a disability, the more severe the disability impairment, the more at risk you are.”

In recent days, as the number of coronavirus cases has ballooned in countries such as South Korea, the prospect of Tokyo 2020 being cancelled – for the first time in Olympic history since the Second World War – has started to be discussed as a real possibility.

The former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, Kevan Gosper, said this week that COVID-19 was “the most serious” threat the Olympic Games has faced.

“If the situation doesn’t improve, or vaccines aren’t available, and it continues to escalate, then the only possibility is that the Games will be cancelled,” he told the ABC.

Kevan Gosper, former IOC vice-president

Meanwhile, Australia’s Paralympians remain optimistic and are continuing their preparations ahead of the Games, with high hopes of competing.

With the Games taking place in a similar time zone to Australia, Paralympics Australia believes the 2020 Paralympics will attract a big audience and help to break down the stigma that still surrounds disabled athletes.

Australian Paralympic officials and athletes (Photo: Laura Baehny)

In recent years, Paralympics Australia has observed positive results from the Education Program. Its research shows that every time someone watches the Paralympics, they are reminded to notice what disabled people can do, and not what they can’t do, Anderson said.

“It’s is very important to show them not only what we can do on the sporting field, but also what we can do in life,” Australian Paralympian Eliza Ault-Connell told the launch.

Eliza Ault-Connell, Australian Paralympian

Jennifer Blow, manager of the Education Program, said: “For us, there is another goal, It’s about what Paralympics brings to Australia: teaching about para-sports, para-athletes, and importantly, the ability of people with disability … and we want to do that by promoting our values: determination, inspiration, courage and equality.”

The World Health Organisation is reportedly working closely with Tokyo Olympics organisers, providing them with risk assessments.

On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked organisers to postpone or cancel major sporting and cultural events over the coming fortnight to help prevent an escalation of the disease.

The fate of the Olympics and Paralympics will be decided over the next three months.