News & Topics


Chairman Yamawaki and Rio Paralympics Gold Medalist Discuss Their Hopes for Tokyo 2020 (Part II)

*This article is a continuation from Part I.

Popow, who since his para athletics days has showed the world the power of sports through his Running Clinics, tells us, “As a Paralympics gold medalist, it’s an incredibly joyful thing for me to be able to communicate to people the value of parasports and the Paralympics.” What do these two individuals, so deeply involved in the Paralympic movement, think about the “power” of the athletes who compete in the Paralympics?

Popow: The Paralympics are based in four values—Courage, Determination, Inspiration, and Equality. Of these, the one that I identified with the most was inspiration. I remember when I was doing para athletics that I wanted to inspire other people.

And I think the equality part of it is now something we can take more or less for granted… I do think the real thrill of the Paralympics is the inspiration.

Yamawaki: I’ve been inspired by many athletes, including Philip Craven, former wheelchair basketball player and long-time President of the International Paralympic Committee, and I feel that many Paralympians have a strong sense of determination. I see this in you as well, as you go around the world making efforts for people.

Popow: It’s true that to achieve inspiration, you need the will to move people. It’s impossible to bring people up with you if you don’t have the determination to do so. In that sense, inspiration and a strong sense of determination go hand in hand.

Popow visited Japan several times in 2018, to compete in a tournament before his retirement, and to host a Running Clinic. How does he feel about the hype in Japan leading up to the Tokyo Paralympics?

Popow: I’ve come to Japan pretty regularly starting four years ago, and I do feel that interest in parasports and the Paralympics is growing, year after year. I can’t think of any other country that’s been this interested in the Paralympics over a year ahead of its actual starting date—and this is including the one in London, which saw the most excitement of any Paralympics in the past.

That’s why I’m expecting so much from the Tokyo Paralympics, and why I want to help in any way I can, because I don’t want there to be any mistakes made.

I also think that in Japan, it’s possible to relate sports to day-to-day life. We teach sports at the Running Clinic, but I noticed that the staff and the participants in Japan were just naturally connecting parasports to the idea of solving the day-to-day struggles faced by people with impairment. I was amazed at what a smart and sensible way of thinking this was. A lot of countries consider these—parasports and the day-to-day lives of people with impairment—to be two separate things, but in Japan people seem to think of these things as very connected to each other.

Para-athletes, parasports, and the Paralympics have the power to change society. And what with there being so many more people in Japan showing an interest in parasports, I actually think the Tokyo Paralympics has the potential to change the world.

Popow (right) listening intently to Chairman Yamawaki of Parasapo (left)

Yamawaki: To be honest, that was a lot more praise than I expected. It’s just that the percentage of people in Japan who exercise once a week is 40% amongst able-bodied people, and only 17% amongst people with impairment. We want to bring this up to about 50%.

Popow: I do think Japan will change through its experience with the Paralympics, but I think there has to be more focus on exactly what will become possible through this change. What happens if your child is born with only one leg? Currently in Japan, the government doesn’t provide you with prostheses or sports prostheses. But children as a rule want to move around. That’s why I’m hoping the government will provide wheelchairs and prostheses to children that need them, and give everyone equal opportunities to exercise. I’ve made this same argument in my home country of Germany, through the media and through requests to sports-related branches of government, and have helped change the circumstances there.

Yamawaki: We do want to increase the amount of opportunities available for people with impairment to play sports. There are Sports Centers for the Disabled in every prefecture, but there are many people who live really far away from these centers, and they’re not easily accessible to everyone. One solution that I personally want to push is asking sports clubs all over the country to start allowing people with impairment to use their facilities.

As the conversation between these two powerhouses of the Paralympic movement gained momentum, they also touched on the popularization of parasports amongst the general population, as well as approaches that utilized Paralympics education.

Yamawaki: At Parasapo we do all kinds of programs, but we have two main goals. The first is to heighten interest in parasports, and the second is to change the way people think about people with impairment. Though on the one hand it seems our parasport workshops for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools have been successful, I sometimes wonder if there’s anything we can do directly for children with impairment. For instance, able-bodied children and children with impairment have very few opportunities to play with one another, and their P.E. classes tend to be separate as well. The thing is, the children themselves would be fine with playing amongst each other. But the teachers can’t create the environment for it. So to fix that that, I think it’s important for us to change the teachers’ mindsets, and make it so that they’re capable of welcoming children with disabilities.

Chairman Yamawaki spoke about the effects Paralympic education has had

Popow: If the teachers can’t find a solution, they can ask the children. Ask them how able-bodied children and children with impairment could play together, and they’ll think up a solution.

It comes down to how much we as a society are able to see the potential of people with impairment. This will be the key to success at the Tokyo Paralympics, and I don’t think it’s too much to say that this will also help lead to the realization of a more inclusive society.

Yamawaki: I believe that if we continue our current efforts, Japan will change. Of course, it won’t be easy, but I think 2020 will be the first gateway to bringing change to Japanese society—the Tokyo Paralympics will just be building on top of that. And of course, what’s most important is what comes after 2020.

Popow: I agree that 2020 is the first step. No matter how high of a mountain you’re climbing, there’s always that first step you have to take. I believe this will be that step, and that with all this information and passion going around, that Japan will change, and that this will perhaps spread out to the world.

Yamawaki, who devotes himself both physically and mentally to the Paralympics, claims these extremely busy days have been incredibly fun for him. Popow works to promote the joy of sports through his Running Clinics. Though their positions and their countries may differ, they are united in their immense desire to change society through parasports, their friendship providing incredible motivation to send their respective messages out into the world.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Google+