The road to Tokyo has been bumpy, with a global pandemic halting the Games in 2020 and concerns over safety gripping residents in Japan ahead of the rescheduled event. As Team GB prepare to represent, Paralympian Will Bayley talks about the importance of the Games.
A wait unlike any other, the whistle for the Tokyo Summer 2020 Paralympic Games is set to blow.
Originally scheduled to take place in the Japanese capital from 25 August to 6 September in 2020, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic meant sporting events were cancelled or postponed.
Now, the rescheduled Games will see 539 events across 22 sports hosted in 21 venues, however, the pandemic has left lasting ripple effects for residents in Japan with a recent poll featured in Asahi Shimbun newspaper indicating 80 per cent of the population want the Games cancelled or postponed.
But, for world number one Paralympic table tennis player, Will Bayley – who was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital joint contracture in two or more areas of the body – the postponement of the Games has been a positive.
Working to defend his 2016 Rio de Janeiro Individual Class Seven title, Will’s return to the Paralympics will come after recovering from a torn cruciate ligament which occurred whilst training for Strictly Come Dancing.
In February 2020, Will had to have a reconstructive operation, meaning training for the Games originally scheduled in 2020 was in great jeopardy.
“A year since my injury, I feel comfortable when I bounce off my leg the way I did before, maybe even better.” This has also been assisted by the B-Cure Laser, which can help treat chronic pain at home.
Since using the B-Cure Laser, Will, who is an ambassador for the company, adds: “When I got my injury, it was excruciatingly painful. I had the operation and it was a tough recovery.
“As I’m constantly twisting and turning that doesn’t help my knee, it creates a bit of pain. The B-Cure Laser helps me manage the pain. I was sceptical at fi rst, but it is managing my pain really well and I can do more sessions than I did before.”
And the additional training is certainly helping Will, at the time of writing he is three-weeks ahead of his first match at the upcoming Games; training 10 hours a day playing table tennis to work on defending his Rio title.
Alongside Will, Team GB athletes are continually training to go above and beyond in Tokyo with one main goal: getting on a podium. However, there has been controversy around the Games due to the pandemic.
Despite challenges, at the time of writing, Tokyo’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga revealed his intentions to not only hold both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but have spectators in stadiums.
From an athletes perspective, Will can see both the pros and cons of the Games going ahead.
Will emphasises: “I hope it goes ahead from a selfish point of view; because of all the work we’ve done, we want the Games to go ahead. Obviously, it is a difficult time for the world at the moment so I understand that as well. It is difficult: I hope it happens, but I know the challenges of hosting a massive event like this – it is really hard to do.”
Set to be the sixteenth Summer Paralympics, the Tokyo Paralympic Games will be the second time the Games have been hosted in Tokyo. Back in 1964, Tokyo welcomed the athletes from across the world.
In 2021, two new adapted sports are set to take centre stage including taekwondo and badminton.
Despite the uncertainty and hostility, in part, that surrounds the Games, Will also highlights the importance of the Paralympics for everyone – regardless of limitations.
“The Paralympics is massive,” emphasises Will. “For too long disabled people and disability sport has gone under the radar. There is a lot of people, a lot of disabled children who need to see the Paralympics; we should really show what is possible and give people inspiration.
“It is important to show Para sport, that despite the limitations someone might have, they are still able to do great sport and it is not just for inspiration and motivation for disabled people but non-disabled people, too.”
As the flames of the Olympic and Paralympic torches continue to flicker, it is hoped that athletes who have worked so hard for the Games have their chance to shine. Even more importantly, it is essential to showcase disability sport.
For those thinking of getting active, Will concludes: “As humans we’re not very good at stepping outside our comfort zone. I know what it is like to feel like you are no good at something. It is really important to give things a go – if you do, you might end up loving it.”