How to Watch the Paralympics Opening Ceremony – The New York Times

The Paralympics opening ceremony included a performance themed as a “Para Airport.”
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — There were clowns, acrobats and the hopeful theme “We Have Wings,” to evoke all that is possible in difficult circumstances.

Yet the Paralympic Games got underway Tuesday much like the Olympics a few weeks before: with no spectators watching from the stands, a sparse gathering of athletes and questions around holding a large event in a pandemic.

A team made up of refugees led the parade of athletes and a volunteer marched with the flag of Afghanistan; its two Paralympians are not at the Games because of the upheaval in the country.

Still, organizers of the Games have said that the event is more than a sports competition, casting it as a way to draw attention to the 15 percent of the global population with impairments.

“This is the only global event that puts people with disabilities at center stage and gives voice to persons with disabilities,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said at a news conference Monday. “Throughout the pandemic, they have been left behind and have been denied a level of services that nondisabled people have had access to.”

Generating attention for the Games, which are opening a little over two weeks after the Olympics closing ceremony, could be a challenge, particularly in Japan, where a persistent wave of coronavirus infections has burdened the hospital system in Tokyo and unnerved the public.

Outside the Olympic Stadium before the ceremony on Tuesday, there were noticeably fewer people than before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, when throngs of people gathered to take selfies along the road around the stadium. On Tuesday, a line of about 10 people pointed their cellphones at the venue. The low turnout may be partly because the Paralympic ceremony landed on a weekday, while the opening ceremony of the Olympics took place on a Friday night, and the closing festivities on a Sunday.

Hanako Ohkawa, 34, appreciated the lack of crowds. She brought her two daughters, 4 and 6, to the stadium. They were wearing hats with Olympic and Paralympic mascots on them.

“We didn’t come on the day of the opening ceremony for the Olympics, because we thought there would be too many people,” Ohkawa said. She said she was worried about the spread of the coronavirus in Tokyo, “but since the Olympics have happened, there is not much they can do about it now. They can’t cancel the Paralympics or else that would be quite unfair.”

The first team to enter the stadium on Tuesday was the Refugee Paralympic Team, which is making its second appearance in the Games.

Both flag bearers have deep significance. Alia Issa, who was born in Greece after her family fled Syria, is the first woman on a refugee team at the Paralympics. She will compete in the club throw event in track and field.

Abbas Karimi, a swimmer and a refugee who has lived in the United States since 2016, will be the only Afghan athlete at the Games. The athletes who were scheduled to compete for the country withdrew from the Games because they could not secure safe flights to Tokyo amid the chaos of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Karimi has lived and trained in Portland, Ore., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He will be swimming the 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter butterfly.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

One of the two athletes representing Afghanistan, Zakia Khudadadi, a taekwondo athlete, had released a video from Kabul pleading for help last week. She would have been the first Afghan woman to participate in the Games. She was among a group of female athletes transported to Australia; the location of the other team member, Hossain Rasouli, a track athlete, was not clear.

The emperor of Japan, Naruhito, officially declared the Games open. Japan’s Imperial family has a long history of support for the Paralympics: The current emperor’s parents, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko, adopted the 1964 Paralympics in Tokyo as one of their primary causes when they were crown prince and princess. Tokyo is the first city to host the Paralympics twice, as the Games, first held in 1960 in Rome, are held in the same city as their Olympic counterpart.

The support of the then-crown prince and princess started a gradual change in attitudes toward those with disabilities in Japan, said Kenneth J. Ruoff, a historian and specialist in Imperial Japan at Portland State University.

“However hard it may be to believe now, there were sayings at the time that people with disabilities should be essentially kept out of sight or hidden,” Professor Ruoff said.

At the time the royal family had a strong social influence, Ruoff added, and the crown prince helped shift public opinion through his view that people with disabilities “should play sports for the same purpose that everyone else did, which included first and foremost enjoyment and not just rehabilitation.”

After the 1964 Paralympics, the Imperial couple regularly visited hospitals and institutions where those with disabilities lived.

“The emperor and empress resolutely, over decades, kept drawing attention to people with disabilities by visiting them with the media in tow,” Ruoff said.

Five countries sent athletes to the Paralympics, which has 22 sports, for the first time this year: Bhutan, Grenada, the Maldives, Paraguay and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A total of 21 countries decided not to participate this year. Reasons included pandemic travel restrictions, not having an athlete who qualified for the Games and pregnancy.

A total of 162 nations and a delegation of refugees are taking part in the Paralympics in Tokyo. That’s more than went to the Rio Games in 2016 and just shy of the record 164 in London in 2012.

Tatyana McFadden after the New York City Women’s Wheelchair Marathon in 2018.
Credit…Uli Seit for The New York Times

There are 22 sports at this year’s Paralympics, with two additions since the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro: badminton and taekwondo.

One athlete from the United States, Blake Haxton, has qualified in two sports: rowing, for a second consecutive Games, and canoe sprint, in which he was one spot from qualifying in 2016.

The U.S. swimmer Jessica Long returns for her fifth Paralympics, looking to add to a stash of 13 gold medals that she began building in Athens in 2004, when she was 12.

The wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden, 32, won four golds in 2016 and just missed a fifth in the marathon, which is considered her best event. She is again entered in five events.

One of the most thrilling competitions in Rio came on the final day of the Games, when Australia’s wheelchair rugby team defeated the United States, 59-58, in double overtime to repeat as the Paralympic champion. But the reigning world champion, from 2018, is Japan, which won bronze in Rio and now has home turf.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Athletes from the Japanese Paralympic team at the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

As is traditional, Japan, the host country, closed out the parade of nations. One of the two flag bearers, Koyo Iwabuchi, a table tennis player and second-time Paralympian, is currently ranked second in the world and a favorite to win a medal in Tokyo.

Japan has not won medals in table tennis at the Paralympics in the last five games, and Iwabuchi has said he wants to break the streak. He is also known for saying “more than a gold medal,” meaning he wants people to know that he does not compete just for a medal but for people to understand and appreciate the value of Para sports.

Mami Tani, the other flag bearer for Japan, competed in three previous Paralympic Games in the long jump. She will compete in Tokyo as a triathlete. She gave birth to a son in 2015 and switched to the triathlon the following year.

Athletes from the U.S. Paralympic team at the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — Melissa Stockwell, a triathlete and veteran of the Iraq War, and Chuck Aoki, the captain of the U.S. wheelchair rugby team, carried the flag and led the American team in the parade of nations.

Stockwell, 41, who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, will compete in the triathlon at her third Paralympic Games. She competed in three swimming events in 2008 and returned in 2016, when triathlon was added to the Paralympics, winning a bronze medal. She was chosen to carry the flag at the closing ceremony in 2008.

Aoki, 30, will also compete in his third Paralympics, after winning bronze with his team in 2012 and silver in 2016, when the U.S. lost a riveting final against Australia.

Different colors are projected onto the field where the athletes are sitting during the opening ceremony.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — Five countries sent athletes to the Paralympics for the first time this year: Bhutan, Grenada, the Maldives, Paraguay and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A total of 21 countries decided not to participate this year. Reasons included pandemic travel restrictions, not having an athlete who qualified for the Games and pregnancy.

A total of 162 nations and a delegation of refugees are taking part in the Paralympics in Tokyo. That’s more than went to the Rio Games in 2016 and just shy of the record 164 in London in 2012.

A volunteer carrying the flag of Afghanistan in place of the country’s absent athletes.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Paralympic athletes from Afghanistan were unable to fly to Tokyo safely because of chaos surrounding the Taliban takeover of the country. But in a show of respect for the country’s two Paralympians, the flag of Afghanistan was carried into the parade of athletes by a Paralympic volunteer wearing a three-tone blue Tokyo 2020 shirt. A representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also walked with the flag.

The display of support came amid news that a group of Afghan athletes, including Paralympians, had fled Kabul with the help of a group of Australian sports stars.

Nikki Dryden, a former Canadian Olympian turned human rights lawyer who was involved in the effort, said on Tuesday that two Afghan Paralympians were part of a group of more than 50 athletes — including soccer players, referees and their families — who had secured protection in Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the athletes and their families had been granted humanitarian visas.

“The operation is still ongoing, but at least 50 athletes and their families are on planes or — for us it was just safely getting them into the airport, that’s when we called it a win,” Dryden told the ABC.

The two Paralympians were “safely out of Afghanistan,” she added. She did not identify them by name, and she said she was unsure whether they would compete in Tokyo.

The Refugee Paralympic Team leading the parade of nations into the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — The parade of the athletes is always the centerpiece of the opening ceremony. At the Olympics, Greece typically marches in first, because it is the nation where the Olympics originated. As with the Olympics, the number of athletes in the Paralympic parade is likely to be diminished in comparison with a typical Games, because coronavirus restrictions prohibit athletes from entering the Paralympic Village until five days before their competitions.

The first team to enter the stadium on Tuesday was the Refugee Paralympic Team, which is making its second appearance in the Games.

Both flag bearers have deep significance. Alia Issa, who was born in Greece after her family fled Syria, is the first woman on a refugee team at the Paralympics. She will compete in the club throw event in track and field.

Abbas Karimi, a swimmer and a refugee who has lived in the United States since 2016, will be the only Afghan athlete at the Games. The athletes who were scheduled to compete for the country withdrew from the Games because they could not secure safe flights to Tokyo amid the chaos of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Karimi has lived and trained in Portland, Ore., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He will be swimming the 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter butterfly.

Emperor Naruhito of Japan, left, and Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, waved during the start of the opening ceremony.
Credit…Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

TOKYO — His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, will officially declare the Paralympic Games open. Japan’s Imperial family has a long history of support for the Paralympics: The current emperor’s parents, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko, adopted the 1964 Paralympics in Tokyo as one of their primary causes when they were Crown Prince and Princess. Tokyo is the first city to host the Paralympics twice.

The support of the then-Crown Prince and Princess started a gradual change in attitudes toward those with disabilities in Japan, said Kenneth J. Ruoff, a historian and specialist in Imperial Japan at Portland State University.

“However hard it may be to believe now, there were sayings at the time that people with disabilities should be essentially kept out of sight or hidden,” Professor Ruoff said.

At the time the royal family had a strong social influence, Ruoff added, and the Crown Prince helped shift public opinion through his view that people with disabilities “should play sports for the same purpose that everyone else did, which included first and foremost enjoyment and not just rehabilitation.”

After the 1964 Paralympics, the Imperial couple regularly visited hospitals and institutions where those with disabilities lived.

“The emperor and empress resolutely, over decades, kept drawing attention to people with disabilities by visiting them with the media in tow,” Ruoff said.

The Olympic Cauldron sitting closed and unlit in an empty stadium ahead of the opening ceremony.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

TOKYO — Organizers of the Paralympic Games have said that the event is more than a sports competition. They have repeatedly cast it as a way to draw attention to the 15 percent of the global population with impairments.

“This is the only global event that puts people with disabilities at center stage and gives voice to persons with disabilities,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympics Committee, said at a news conference a day before the opening ceremony. “Throughout the pandemic, they have been left behind and have been denied a level of services that nondisabled people have had access to.”

Generating attention for the Games, which are opening a little over two weeks after the Olympics closing ceremony, could be a challenge, particularly in Japan, where a persistent wave of coronavirus infections has burdened the hospital system in Tokyo and unnerved the public.

Outside the Olympic Stadium before the ceremony on Tuesday, there were noticeably fewer people than before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, when throngs of people gathered to take selfies along the road around the stadium. On Tuesday, a line of about 10 people pointed their cellphones at the venue. The low turnout may be partly due to the fact that the Paralympic ceremony landed on a weekday, while the opening ceremony of the Olympics took place on a Friday night, and the closing festivities on a Sunday.

Hanako Ohkawa, 34, appreciated the lack of crowds. She brought her two daughters, 4 and 6, to the stadium. They were wearing hats with Olympic and Paralympic mascots on them.

“We didn’t come on the day of the opening ceremony for the Olympics, because we thought there would be too many people,” Ohkawa said. She said she was worried about the spread of the coronavirus in Tokyo, “but since the Olympics have happened, there is not much they can do about it now. They can’t cancel the Paralympics or else that would be quite unfair.”

Takeru Shibata, 27, who works in recruitment, happened to walk by the stadium near the start time. ““I didn’t know that the opening ceremony was today,” he said. “I would watch Paralympic matches if I come across them on TV, but I don’t particularly plan on watching anything.”

The Paralympics symbol, “Three Agitos,” in Tokyo.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

When: 6:55 a.m.-10 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday

Where: NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com, NBC Sports app

TOKYO — The opening ceremony for the 16th Summer Paralympics will take place at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Tuesday. The stadium has a capacity of 68,000 but will be largely empty because of the coronavirus pandemic, except for the Paralympic athletes, their support staff, stadium workers, volunteers and members of the news media.

NBCSN will start a live broadcast of the opening ceremony at 6:55 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday. The ceremony will be replayed on NBCSN the same night at 7, leading into live coverage from the first day of competition.

Throughout the Games, NBCSN is expected to present live coverage of competition each night, usually from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Eastern. Other coverage can be seen on NBC and the Olympic Channel. Here is a full schedule of Paralympic TV listings on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel.

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How to Watch the Paralympics Opening Ceremony – The New York Times

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