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Over half of sports orgs supporting Tokyo Paralympic athletes lack funds: Mainichi poll

The emblem of the Tokyo Olympic Games is seen at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku Ward in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kenji Ikai)

TOKYO -- Over half of domestic sports organizations helping athletes prepare for the Tokyo Paralympics, which was postponed by a year due to the spread of the coronavirus, tend to lack funds, a poll by the Mainichi Shimbun has shown.

    The lack of money is caused by a decline in corporate performances due to the effects of the novel coronavirus, and companies becoming uncertain about the prospects of their support for para sports. Aug. 24 marks a year to go until the opening of the Tokyo Paralympics.

    The survey was conducted in July on a total of 26 sports organizations presiding over all 22 Paralympic sports events next summer. Of the 25 respondents, 14 organizations, or 56%, said they "lack" or have the "tendency to lack" funds to operate and improve athletes' performances. Fifteen organizations, or 60%, said the coronavirus has had a "large" or "rather large" effect on their revenue, such as cancellations in hosting sports events.

    The Japan Wheelchair Tennis Association, which has wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda and Yui Kamiji among other Paralympic medalists among its members, commented, "There are fears of sponsor companies withdrawing due to the prolonged pandemic, and we have no idea of when we can hold joint training camps and overseas training."

    Eight organizations, or about 30%, said they expect the number of sponsors to decrease in fiscal 2021, while none of the respondents said they expect a rise in sponsors. The Japanese Para-Swimming Federation, which is being sponsored by 16 companies in fiscal 2020, indicated a severe financial outlook by saying, "We will stop receiving support from a maximum of six companies in fiscal 2021, and a 40 million yen (approximately $378,243) reduction in revenue is expected."

    The survey showed that the one-year postponement has led to a financial decline among these organizations, which is further accelerated by the deterioration in performances of their sponsors due to the spread of infections.

    Regarding the concern of sponsors pulling the plug, a senior member of one sports organization commented, "Even a flame that burns brightly becomes weaker all of a sudden when water is poured on it, and is extinguished."

    From 2013, para sports suddenly started attracting attention, when Tokyo was chosen as the host of the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike insisted that "the Tokyo Games would not be considered a success without a successful Paralympics," and many companies as part of their corporate social responsibility began giving support to sports organizations with a frail base, including those financially weak and lacking labor -- which was referred to by some as a "Para bubble."

    There was a sense of danger over the collapse of the Olympic "bubble economy" after the games, and parties concerned commonly called the matter a "2021 problem," indicating a withdrawal of sponsors in 2021, a year after the original date of the Tokyo Games. This concern however, became a reality one year earlier as the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on corporate performances.

    A senior member of a separate sports organization said, with the intention of self-discipline, "We can't blame the pandemic for the withdrawal of sponsors." Sports organizations are now being called on to find a new operation method that does not rely too heavily on companies, which are greatly affected by the economic climate and their performances. One method would be for athletes and sports organizations to put effort into independent initiatives and dispersing information, and to seek support from individuals who cultivated a better understanding of para sports thanks to the Tokyo Games.

    The creation of a system that encompasses various forms of aid and in which society as a whole can support para sports is being called for.

    (Japanese original by Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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