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Editorial: Paralympics a chance to expand assistance to handicapped

The Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, an international sport festival for handicapped athletes, opened on Sept. 8, Japan time. Approximately 4,400 athletes from about 160 countries and regions will compete in 528 events in 22 sports during the Games -- more athletes than in the 2012 London Paralympics.

Athletes' desire to win medals by overcoming their handicaps will certainly move spectators. Therefore, it would be out of the question for athletes to resort to doping.

The International Paralympic Committee banned Russian athletes from participating in the Rio Paralympics on the grounds of a state-led doping campaign. Russia won 36 gold medals in the London Paralympics. Russia filed an appeal against the decision with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, to no avail. The court protected the values of the Paralympics.

The level of competition in sports for handicapped athletes have been improving year-by-year as a growing number of professional athletes are competing in various countries with support from their sponsors.

In this sense, the men's long jump in track and field has drawn particular attention. Markus Rehm from Germany, who has an artificial right leg, established a world record of 8.4 meters in the world championship for disabled athletes last year -- better than the 8.38 meters marked by the gold medalist at the Rio Olympics.

Rehm aimed to participate in the Rio Olympics. However, the International Association of Athletics Federations demanded that Rehm scientifically prove that his artificial leg made of carbon does not improve his performance, and he eventually abandoned seeking to participate in the Olympics. In the Paralympics, it is hoped that he will make history.

A dispute over the performance of artificial legs and the fairness of using artificial legs has not been settled yet. Prosthetist Fumio Usui, who has made artificial legs for many Japanese athletes, points out that athletes cannot acquire the level of muscle strength necessary to bend a spring plate in artificial legs unless they undergo intense training.

Artificial legs and other equipment to make up for lost functions are indispensable for handicapped athletes. However, such cutting-edge, custom-made equipment is not cheap for individuals to easily buy. There are many athletes who have abandoned obtaining such equipment for economic reasons in some countries. This is one of the reasons that the number of countries that dispatch athletes to the Paralympics is about 40 fewer than the Olympics.

Japan is fortunate as it has dispatched some 130 athletes to the Paralympics. Still, there are physically disabled people in Japan who want to play sports but cannot because of the financial burden, according to the Sasakawa Sports Foundation and other sources. The ratio of handicapped people who play sports is less than half of the figure for those without handicaps. About 20 percent of the athletes who have participated or are to participate in the Paralympics have experienced being prevented from using sport facilities due to their handicaps.

NHK for the first time is broadcasting live the competitions at the Paralympics every day throughout the event, providing the public with an opportunity to view some sports that are unfamiliar to them. The next Paralympics will be held in Tokyo in four years.

The Paralympics should be an opportunity to expand assistance to handicapped people in order to encourage these people to start and continue playing sports.

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