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Int'l Paralympic Committee chief Parsons expects 'amazing games' in Tokyo: interview

International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons (Mainichi/Yoshiya Goto)

TOKYO -- With a little more than 500 days left before the start of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons spoke with the Mainichi Shimbun on April 9.

During the telephone interview, Parsons revealed that the North and South Korean Paralympic committees would soon be entering talks along with the IPC on an inter-Korea team.

The following is the text of the Q&A. It has been edited for length and content.

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Mainichi Shimbun: Next Saturday the 13th will mark 500 days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. What are your thoughts so far on Tokyo's preparation for the games as well as how Japan is realizing its commitment to a shared society?

Andrew Parsons: I think the preparations for the games for Tokyo are going extremely well. We have an efficient organizing committee with whom we have been working really well for the past few years. We have good enthusiasm coming from the different sectors of society, from the different levels of government, the private sector, (and) broadcasters. The organizing committee is placing the Paralympics at the same level as the Olympics in everything, when it comes to promotion, to the attention to the details. So I think it's going extremely well. We expect an amazing games in Tokyo.

We are also working with the organizing committee and different levels of government so we can influence positively the way Japanese society perceives persons with disabilities.

M: In Japan, the Olympics and Paralympics are understood as being a set. Many organizers in Tokyo have said that Tokyo 2020 will not be considered a success if the Paralympics are not successful. What do you feel is the key to the success of the games?

AP: I think this is just another example of the importance the organizers give to the Paralympics, and this is reassuring. The key to success is of course a very good level of planning, efficiency and engagement of the different stakeholders. It has to do with the national government, the organizing committee, the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the IPC, the international federations, and how the media will portray the games.

M: Personally, is there anything you are looking forward to doing in Tokyo if you have any free time? I know you have visited Tokyo and Japan many times in the past.

AP: I have been in Tokyo many times. I was a member of the evaluation commission when Tokyo was bidding for the games. I grew up in Sao Paolo where there is a huge Japanese community. So I admire many aspects of Japanese culture, and one of them is the cuisine. I absolutely love Japanese food, but I also think Japan has a very beautiful culture where there is respect. I believe respect should be one of the universal values that everyone follows.

M: In October 2018 at the Asian Paralympic Games in Jakarta, a unified Korea team was established for swimming and table tennis. Are you considering something like this for Tokyo?

AP: We are considering that. We are in contact with the (North and South Korean) national Paralympic committees. We are scheduling a meeting with them. We don't have a date yet because there are many issues, but there is a lot of good will between the 3 parties -- the IPC and the two committees. However, there is still a long way to go and we still have to discuss the details.

M: Are the sanctions on North Korea an issue?

AP: We don't believe so. Because North Korea is an active member of the IPC, we believe that even if there is no unified Korean team, a North Korean team will be present.

M: The IPC has conditionally lifted the suspension of the Russian Paralympic Commission's qualification over the doping issue. It is expected that a Russian team will join Tokyo 2020, something we have not seen since Sochi. Is there a reason for the rush to lift the suspension?

AP: Well, we hope we will never have a case like Russia's again in the future. I think we have shown to the world that we will not be complacent. We came to the conclusion last January that we should lift the suspension (on Russia), but we will closely monitor them for the next three and a half years. The governing board of the IPC reserves the right to suspend (Russia) again if anything happens in that time.

M: The Winter Paralympic Games has not had a category for intellectual disabilities since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, meaning such athletes have no path to appearing. Is there a way to change this and if so, when?

AP: Yes, we are in discussions about this in some sports. It needs to be sport by sport. We cannot have a policy that applies to all because there is a classification issue, and classification is sport-specific. But yes, this is something that we are discussing, and we hope to announce something soon about the participation of intellectually impaired athletes in future winter games.

(Interviewed by Tatsuya Haga, Sports News Department)

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