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80% of existing 2020 Olympic venues fail to meet wheelchair space criteria

With three years to go until the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned that the number of wheelchair spaces in most existing Olympic venues with permanent seating is below target. Furthermore, all venues that will be used for the Paralympics have failed in this area too.

These results came to light after the Mainichi Shimbun conducted questionnaires and interviews with people in charge at the existing facilities. The results showed that 80 percent of existing venues which will be used during the 2020 Games failed to meet the "barrier-free" goal regarding wheelchair spaces -- which was set by the Olympics and Paralympics organizing committee. According to an expert on the issue, "The findings indicate that Japanese sports venues are falling behind in terms of accommodating people with disabilities."

In January 2016, the committee set some "hardware" barrier-free criteria -- using International Paralympic Committee (IPC) guidelines as a reference. Although these criteria are not legally binding, a list of criteria covering around 50 items was set, including the number of wheelchair spaces.

Specifically, under the barrier-free criteria, the standard ratio of wheelchair seats in Olympic stadiums to regular seats is set at 0.75 percent, while it's 1 to 1.2 percent for Paralympic venues. However, of the 15 venues that already have seats and whose capacities are included in host city bidding documents, only three stadiums have met the targets for wheelchair spaces -- namely Tokyo International Forum in Chiyoda Ward, which will be used for weightlifting, Tokyo Stadium in the suburban city of Chofu, which will host the rugby sevens event, and International Stadium Yokohama, which will be used for soccer matches. Meanwhile, all six of the existing Paralympic stadiums fell short of the wheelchair space standards.

Barrier-free criteria on matters such as sports stadiums and roads were established following the Barrier-Free Act, which came into force in 2006. However, speaking on this issue, professor Yoshihiko Kawauchi of Toyo University -- who is an expert in universal design -- states, "Important criteria regarding spectators' seats have not been established."

In 2015, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism created a policy stating that the ratio of wheelchair seats was to be at least 0.5 to 1 percent, but Kawauchi is critical of this move, saying that, "Japan hastily made this policy, after IPC ways of thinking began to enter the country."

Looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, an organizing committee representative says, "We have requested that the number of wheelchair spaces be increased in order to meet the relevant targets. And if that can't be done, we plan to take necessary measures such as increasing the number of stadium staff."

Meanwhile, the national government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government working on construction of new permanent venues such as the new National Stadium are aiming to achieve these targets.

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