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Tokyo Paralympics 'the beginning of the story' for disability awareness: BPA official

British Paralympic Association CEO Tim Hollingsworth speaks in an interview with The Mainichi at the British Embassy in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on May 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- How can the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics become a success and can the social impact last after the games? British Paralympic Association (BPA) CEO Tim Hollingsworth, who played a central role in the London 2012 Paralympics, says that it is important to have a long term strategy beyond Tokyo 2020. The upcoming event is "the beginning of the story, not the end," he said.

    The London Paralympics in 2012 was one of the most successful events of its kind, selling some 2.7 million tickets -- the most ever in the history of the Paralympic Games. Not only did the BPA thoroughly prepare for the games in its capacity as the National Paralympic Committee for Great Britain, but it also poured effort into promoting Paralympic sports.

    In a recent interview with The Mainichi in Tokyo, Hollingsworth attributed the success partly to a media strategy focusing on various sports, which challenged perceptions regarding disabilities. Channel 4, the U.K. broadcaster that covered the London Paralympic Games, made programs about various sports, combined with athletes' stories, and covered issues surrounding disabilities. Disabled people also presented programs.

    The number of tickets sold and better visibility in the media were not the only achievements of London 2012. The event contributed to increased accessibility to buildings and public transport for disabled people, while social awareness about those with disabilities, including in schools and offices, changed for the better. He said he felt this was an ongoing process, noting that not all problems were solved by 2012 and that even now the UK had not reached the summit but was "starting to climb."

    Looking at Japan ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, he pointed out, "It is true that there is some journey still for Japan in terms of (being) willing (to) be barrier free." He said the biggest challenge in Japan was usability in accommodations for disabled people, questioning the common perception that disabled people in hotels are accompanied by other people, such as friends or relatives.

    "I think it is better to consider a disabled person's ability to be independent in the room," the CEO said.

    He believes that an accessible environment will be good not only for disabled people but for everyone, and he hopes that changes sparked by the Tokyo Paralympics will become the norm in 10 or 15 years.

    "For London, we did not talk about legacy; we talked about momentum. We wanted to think about what could happen next, not what had just happened," he said. Officials also focused on early preparation. According to the CEO, the BPA was already planning a strategy for its athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics 100 days before the 2012 London Games began.

    The CEO said that Tokyo 2020 must not be the solution to each problem Japan faces, but said the 2020 Paralympics could create better conversations in society about disabled people, which would one day lead to solutions.

    (By Richi Tanaka, Staff Writer)

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