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Tokyo 2021: Paralympic Games open in Japan amid the 5th wave of Covid-19

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This Tuesday marks the start of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, in the midst of the fifth wave of Covid-19 in Japan, as evidenced by the empty stands of the national stadium during the opening ceremony scheduled for 8:00 p.m. (Tokyo time, 11:00 GMT). Despite this context, all those involved intend to shine.

A little over two weeks after the end of the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games open in Tokyo on Tuesday, August 24, in the midst of the fifth wave of Covid-19. The archipelago has recorded more than 25,000 daily positive cases in recent days, pushing hospitals to the breaking point, according to local doctors. This degradation got the better of the bleachers, decreed empty in the wake of the Olympics struck behind closed doors for 98% of the events.

For the 4,400 athletes competing, there will therefore be no public for these Paralympic Games. But their goal is elsewhere: to win one of the 539 titles (against 339 during the Olympics) awarded until September 5. “Of course we would prefer there to be a public, but we remain focused on our goal. We spent five years this time training to reach the holy grail,” said AFP. judokate Sandrine Martinet, flag bearer of the French delegation with tennis player Stéphane Houdet.

Para athletes are boiling with impatience after five years of waiting

In the national stadium of Tokyo, still marked with the golden treble (100m, 200m and 4x100m) of the Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah, Sandrine Martinet will show, during the opening ceremony, the way to the 146 French men and women engaged in this games. There will be 162 delegations, including five new ones: Bhutan, Guyana, Maldives, Paraguay and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Afghanistan, faced with the Taliban’s return to power, should not be. There is still hope. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and The Parisian claim that taekwondoists Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were able to flee their country and find refuge in Australia. Their participation in the Tokyo Paralympic Games is still possible, knowing that the taekwondo events will take place from September 2 to 4. In any case, the Afghan flag will be displayed in the stadium during the opening ceremony.

The New Zealanders (32 representatives), on the other hand, will not be there to parade with their opponents. The New Zealand delegation decided to skip the opening procession, in order to limit the risk of contamination.

The fact remains that the Covid-19 has not dried up the growing enthusiasm from edition to edition for the Paralympic Games, since Tokyo, the first city to host the event a second time (after 1964), will be close to the record for delegations of London (164). Failing to feel it in the megalopolis, which is about to enter its eighth week of state of emergency, the fever is palpable among athletes.

“I am even more impatient because of the postponement (of a year due to the pandemic)”, proclaims the American archer Matt Stutzman, one of the headliners of the documentary “Rising Phoenix”. “It’s amazing, my elation goes beyond the limits.” “I’m so happy to be here,” added Italian fencer Beatrice Vio next to him. “I missed the vibration of the competition so much”, delivers the standard bearer and megaphone of Italian para sport.

“Change the world”

For lack of spectators, the joy and the stakes of the competition will have to be transmitted only by television broadcasting and its audience of four billion cumulative viewers expected by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

“I think the Japanese people will be proud”, wants to believe the president of the IPC Andrew Parsons in an interview with AFP. “She is organizing an event that will change the world” and will see “the same positive wave” that has risen in public opinion with the Olympics which have long aroused opposition, even hostility, in Japan.

Represented by a delegation of an unprecedented number of 254 para athletes, will the host country capitalize on the momentum born at the Olympic Games, crowned with a record of 27 gold medals? Will China keep its stranglehold on the top of the medal table, as at every Olympiad since Athens 2004? So many questions that promise to bring back to the center of attention – from Wednesday and the start of competitions – the medal table, rather than that of contaminations.

With AFP

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