The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Paralympic closing marks end of Tokyo’s 8-year saga


TOKYO — The final act of the delayed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic­s came Sunday, almost eight years to the day after the Japanese capital was awarded the Games.

The Paralympic­s ended a 13-day run in a colorful, circus-like ceremony at the National Stadium overseen by Crown Prince Akishino, the brother of Emperor Naruhito. The Olympics closed almost a month ago.

These were unpreceden­ted Olympics and Paralympic­s, postponed for a year and marked by footnotes and asterisks. No fans were allowed during the Olympics, except for a few thousand at outlying venues away from Tokyo. A few thousand school children were allowed into some Paralympic venues.

“There were many times when we thought these games could not happen,“Andrew Parsons, president of the Internatio­nal Paralympic Committee, said on Sunday. “There were many sleepless nights.”

The closing ceremony was entitled “Harmonious Cacophony” and involved both able-bodied actors and others with disabiliti­es. The theme was described by organizers as a “world inspired by the Paralympic­s, one where difference­s shine.”

Like the Olympics, the Paralympic­s went ahead as Tokyo was under a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Like the Olympics, testing athletes frequently and isolating them in a bubble kept the virus largely at bay, though cases surged among a Japanese population that is now almost 50% fully vaccinated.

“I believe that we have reached the end of games without any major problems,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee.

But there was fallout, however. Lots of it.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Friday — two days before the closing — that he would not continue in office. Suga hoped to get a reelection bump from the Olympics. He got the opposite as his approval rating plummeted after a slow vaccine rollout in Japan, and a contentiou­s decision to stage the Games during the pandemic.

Suga succeeded Shinzo Abe, who resigned a year ago for health reasons. It was Abe who celebrated in the front row of a Buenos Aires hotel ballroom on Sept. 7, 2013, when thenIOC President Jacques Rogge announced Tokyo as the 2020 host — ahead of Istanbul and Madrid.

In a sad coincidenc­e, Rogge died a week ago at 79 after being in poor health.

“Now that Prime Minister Suga is forced out, taking the blame for his failure to combat the coronaviru­s, it would be impossible to claim that the Olympics and Paralympic­s were successful, a unifying moments for Japan,” Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

The Paralympic­s may leave a more tangible legacy in Japan than the Olympics, raising public awareness about people with disabiliti­es and the provision of accessible public space.

The Paralympic­s involved a record number of athletes — 4,405 — and a record number of countries won medals. They also saw two athletes from Afghanista­n compete, both of whom arrived several days late after fleeing Kabul.

“The Tokyo Games were a model of efficiency and friendline­ss,” Olympic historian David Wallechins­ky said in an email to The Associated Press. “If it hadn’t been for the COVIDrelat­ed difficulti­es, these would be right at or near the top of the best-organized of the 19 Olympics — Summer and Winter — I have attended.”

The costs also set records.

A study by the University of Oxford found these to be the most expensive Games on record. Japan officially spent $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics and Paralympic­s, double the original estimate. Several government audits suggested the real costs are twice that. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

The pandemic probably cost organizers almost $800 million in lost ticket sales, a budget shortfall that will have to be made up by more government funds. In addition, local sponsors contribute­d more than $3 billion to the operating budget, but got little return with few fans.

 ?? Shuji Kajiyama / Associated Press ?? Flag bearers for the United States, Japan and France enter the stadium during the closing ceremony for the 2020 Paralympic­s at the National Stadium on Sunday.
Shuji Kajiyama / Associated Press Flag bearers for the United States, Japan and France enter the stadium during the closing ceremony for the 2020 Paralympic­s at the National Stadium on Sunday.

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