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20% of Japanese Paralympic athletes have faced restrictions on facility use: poll

Paralympic athletes cheer in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 2, 2016, as they look ahead to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. (Mainichi)

Some 20 percent of Japan's Paralympic athletes have in the past been prevented from using sports facilities or have had conditions imposed on them because of their disabilities, a survey made public by the Paralympians Association of Japan has shown.

    The survey, announced in late August ahead of the Paralympic Games beginning in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 7, also found that while Paralympic athletes' sporting environments have improved since the announcement that Tokyo would hold the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, this has not reduced the personal financial burden that Paralympic athletes face.

    The poll has been conducted once every four years since the period before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, targeting athletes and coaches that have recently participated or are due to participate in the Summer or Winter Paralympics. This time, the third occasion the survey has been conducted, it was distributed to 248 coaches and athletes who took part in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, or are due to take part in this year's Paralympics, Responses were received by 175 people, or about 70 percent.

    The sports-related financial burden of Paralympic athletes averaged 1.47 million yen per athlete per year, roughly the same as the average of 1.44 million yen recorded in the survey ahead of the 2012 London Games. The proportion of those who answered that they practiced their sport "practically every day" rose 23.8 percentage points from the previous survey to reach 56.8 percent. Another 39.6 percent answered "three to five days a week," which was the top answer in the surveys in 2008 and 2012.

    For the first time this year, athletes were also questioned on their contracts with companies. About 70 percent of athletes said they were hired by companies or were in sponsorship contracts. On the question of why athletes' financial burden has stayed much the same despite support from companies, the Paralympians Association notes, "It appears that the total amount of activity relating to their sports is increasing."

    In recent years the level of competition is said to have risen, and in such sports as table tennis, having a world ranking in an international tournament is a condition for entry into the Paralympics.

    In the survey, 20 percent of athletes said that they had been refused or had restrictions placed on the use of training facilities on account of their disabilities. Those participating in wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby, in particular, were often refused use of facilities to practice their sports because their wheelchairs would damage the floor. There were also cases in which the visually impaired and intellectually disabled were turned away, being told, for example, "We can't deal with accidents and injuries," or "It's dangerous."

    A total of 56.8 percent of respondents said they had used the government-sponsored Japan Institute of Sports Sciences (JISS) in Tokyo's Kita Ward, up 37.5 percentage points from the previous survey. A similar trend was seen at the neighboring National Training Center. In 2008 after both facilities were completed, concerned parties were hesitant about Paralympic athletes using them. They both operate under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), but issues relating to the Paralympics were handed by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. One JISS official asked, "Why does a facility made by MEXT have to be loaned to the welfare ministry?"

    Last year, however, the Japan Sports Agency was established and it was given jurisdiction over both Olympic and Paralympic issues. During the Rio Olympics, disabled swimmers representing Japan held a camp at the JISS. An official from the Japanese Para-Swimming Federation commented, "I felt that the times have changed." Kuniko Obinata, deputy chair of the Paralympians Association of Japan, welcomed this development.

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