Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

A year on from this coming weekend, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony will take place.

And it is fair to say that Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), is feeling confident, or to use his phrase, "super-confident", that the Japanese capital will deliver "an incredible Games".

So that is the overview for a year to go.

The only area which the 42-year-old Brazilian, who took over his current position from the valiant retiring Brit Sir Philip Craven in 2017, is happy to credit as an "issue" is the same one that concerned him when he provided his last big update with 500 days to go…

No, it is not the possibility of soaring temperatures during competition time, although that is certainly something upon which the IPC's attention is firmly fixed.

No, despite yesterday's nasty E.coli surprise which caused the cancellation of the swimming section of the opening day of the Paratriathlon test event, it is not the quality of the water in Tokyo Bay.

Swimming in yesterday's Paratriathlon test event was cancelled when the water in Tokyo Bay was found to contain E.coli bacteria ©Getty Images
Swimming in yesterday's Paratriathlon test event was cancelled when the water in Tokyo Bay was found to contain E.coli bacteria ©Getty Images

It is, still, the lack of accessible hotel rooms that will be available to disabled people associated with the Games, whether spectators or privileged guests.

It is a bit grey. But actually, Parsons insists, it is also a tell for the biggest issue that the IPC is hoping to address through these Games – a softer, but profoundly more important matter.

"With every edition of the Games we have a different vision from the host city, a different picture of what they want to achieve," Parsons told insidethegames with 500 days to go.

"In Rio, the main focus was on the legacy of an accessible transport system.

"In Tokyo, because we don't have that need to the same level, we are focusing more on changing people' perceptions."

With just over a year to go, Parsons is warming to his theme.

"The lack of accessible rooms is a symptom," he said. 

"In Japanese society they don't see disabled people travelling, either for pleasure or for business. 

"So they don't understand why they would need an accessible hotel room if they don't travel.

"Why have a hotel room if these people should stay at home? They are not business travellers because they are not in the workplace. 

"They stay at home, so they don't go to a beach, they don't go to resorts or tourist spots.

"It is a part of the culture, and that is a challenge. We want to change that culture.

"Apart from hotel rooms, if you go to public facilities, sidewalks, transport systems, there already is a good level of activity to enable access.

Commuters in the Tokyo Metro system this year – not generally a place where those in wheelchairs are seen ©Getty Images
Commuters in the Tokyo Metro system this year – not generally a place where those in wheelchairs are seen ©Getty Images

"But there is a feeling in Japan of over-protection. What we want to show in the Paralympic Games is that the athletes competing in front of the home crowd don't need over-protecting.  

"They can compete, they can work, they can have fun, they can travel, and so on…

"That is why we are targeting a ticketing strategy that allows families to come to the venue, because we want children, we want the future decision-makers of Japan, witnessing at a very early stage that disabled people can do more than they thought was possible.

"In the view of Japanese society, in general terms of course, there is this feeling of over-protecting disabled persons, and keeping them at home. So they don't see them out there, moving around.

"They are not empowering persons of disability to go out there and try to find jobs, or go out with people. This attitude prevents persons with disability from having a life like others, where you go out, you work, you meet someone, you get married, you have children…

"I don't have any scientific data on this. But I think the Games can be a catalyst for people to understand that people with disabilities do not need to be regarded as so fragile.

"If a woman in a wheelchair can race for 42 kilometres, she can go out and find a job, she can go out and find a partner, she can be a friend, she can be your boss. This is what we are trying to find a way to get across – and we are working closely with Tokyo 2020 on this."

But let's get back to the overview.

"We are in very good shape," Parsons insists. "The relationship with the Organising Committee has been fantastic so far. 

"They are on schedule and we are super-confident they will deliver an incredible Games in a year's time. Tokyo 2020, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Japanese Government are doing a fantastic job.

"Of course we have had some issues, and one concerns accessible accommodation and the lack of acceptable rooms in Tokyo.

"From a National Government perspective they are changing the legislation. This will not affect the Games but will be an important piece of legacy."

"We want to change the Japanese culture through the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics," says IPC President Andrew Parsons ©Getty Images

Parsons explains that this relates to a change in the laws obliging hotel owners to provide rooms that are accessible to wheelchair users.

"Currently each hotel of 50 or more rooms has got to have one accessible room," he said. "If you have 49 rooms you don't have to have any accessible rooms. If you have 500 or 5,000 rooms, you still need only one accessible room. It's not one accessible room for every 50 rooms – for 50 and above it's one.

"The new legislation is for one per cent of the total number of rooms to be accessible. So a hotel with 500 rooms would need to provide five accessible rooms.

"It's being discussed in Parliament, and they hope to get it approved between now and next August so it can be considered a legacy of the Games.

"The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee has been doing a very good job in trying to fight for accessible rooms in the city and around the city.

"What may happen is that we use more hotels than originally planned, which will also involve all the services, including transport, being monitored.

"We are also busy on trying to find an accurate picture of which accredited people and clients will be needing accessible rooms during Games time.

"Meanwhile the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is offering a package of incentives for hotels to convert rooms into accessible rooms by doing such things as widening doorways.

"We don't anticipate that this will be a massive improvement in terms of numbers, but it's something the Tokyo Metropolitan Government can do. 

"They cannot insist that hotels refurbish completely, but they can incentivize changes. 

"Meanwhile, we don't believe that we should be the main driver of the solution.

"We will find some operational solutions. We are doing that as we speak. This is the thing with Tokyo. In every issue that we have they are reacting. They are not hiding away.

"I think the issue of hotels is highlighted because everything else is running smoothly. 

"We don't have any other major issues at the venues, or when it comes to their construction and accessible provision.

"We do have some other concerns, although we don't see them as issues in the way that we do accommodation.

"Heat is something we are closely monitoring. We will have access to the data coming from the test events.

Mexico's Cecilia Perez receives attention after collapsing following the Tokyo triathlon test event in more than 30 degree temperatures ©Getty Images
Mexico's Cecilia Perez receives attention after collapsing following the Tokyo triathlon test event in more than 30 degree temperatures ©Getty Images

"However, the period of the Paralympics is a little bit different from the Olympic Games period, so we believe this will not be so much of an issue. The Paralympic action starts on August 25, and the data we have indicates it will be a cooler and less humid period than the Olympic Games. So we believe it will not be as much of an issue.

"But of course with our working group we are drafting plans, so that if something extraordinary happens, we know how to react. We are monitoring the situation, we are super-concerned about it.

"We will watch what has been done for the Olympics, but before that we will have our own plans drawn up.

"It is one year and one week until the Opening of the Paralympics. So it is almost in parallel with the test events going on in Tokyo now. We will get all the data and find what else we can do.

"And of course we welcome the expansive list of measures that will be in place that was released by Tokyo 2020 in July, such as fans and water dispensers.

"Our planning also allows us some flexibility to move sessions if required.

"For example we have discussed the start of the Paralympic marathon. Initially we thought starting at 7.00am was enough, but with all the data we received we moved it to 6.30. The well-being of the athletes is the number one priority. If we have to change, we will do so.

"Our competition calendar allows some flexibility and this is on our radar.

"We are not talking about changing dates, but the marathon is a particular case. If we foresee there is a freak condition coming we shall have to address the issue with counter measures, such as pushing the start even earlier.

"We will do everything we can to not change the date, but if after consultation with the teams, and the medical experts, we do need to, we can have the marathon starting even earlier, say at 6.00am."

In the meantime Parsons' hopes of effecting longstanding changes of attitude to disabled people within Japan has been boosted by the recent release of data accumulated by a survey on Paralympic awareness conducted on a sample of 3,000 people by Dentsu, the giant Japanese advertising and PR agency, in August of last year.

"We are now seeing the results of some interesting research," the Brazilian said.

"We have found that the awareness of and interest in the Paralympics in Japan was much higher with two years to go than it was in Britain at the same stage before the London 2012 Paralympics. And of course London went on to have a fantastic Paralympics. Which is incredible.

"There were questions like 'can you name a single Paralympics figure?' and 'how many Paralympic athletes do you know?' and 'what do you know about Paralympic sport?'

A survey of 3,000 Japanese people by Dentsu showed that 23 per cent of the population could name double Paralympic tennis champion and multiple Grand Slam winner Shingo Kuneida ©Getty Images
A survey of 3,000 Japanese people by Dentsu showed that 23 per cent of the population could name double Paralympic tennis champion and multiple Grand Slam winner Shingo Kuneida ©Getty Images

"This result has been achieved because our commercial partners are making such a good job of promoting Paralympic athletes ahead of the Games. 

"So the Japanese know more about Paralympic athletes at this stage than the UK population did.

"Of course Channel 4 and the London Organising Committee went on to do a very good job in that area.

"But this research shows we have a very good foundation to work with as we look ahead a year to the Paralympics."

Craig Spence, the IPC communications director, added further detail on this topic.

"The equivalent research in Britain was conducted in September 2010," he told insidethegames.

"At that stage less than one per cent of those surveyed in Britain could name a current Paralympic athlete.

"The only name that had registered was Tanni Grey-Thompson, who had retired by then.

"Jonnie Peacock is a household name now, especially after appearing in Strictly Come Dancing. But it was only in June 2012 that he started to come to general attention when he ran his world 100 metres record.

"After the Games, research showed that 33 per cent of the British population could name at least five Paralympians."

Spence says the data from the Dentsu survey showed that 23 per cent of Japanese people knew about wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kuneida, the former world number one who won Olympic golds at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. He has a total of 22 Grand Slam titles from the French, US and Australian Open tournaments and was the runner-up at Wimbledon this year.

"That is an amazing figure," Spence added.

"There was 15 per cent recognition for another Japanese Para-tennis player, Yui Kamiji, and six per cent recognition for Para-swimmer Mei Ichinose.

The London 2012 Paralympics are credited with helping bring in a change of attitudes in Britain ©Getty Images
The London 2012 Paralympics are credited with helping bring in a change of attitudes in Britain ©Getty Images

"Other responses indicated that 46 per cent of those surveyed understood how wheelchair basketball was played, and 40.1 per cent were conversant with wheelchair tennis.

"The general figure for awareness of the Tokyo Paralympics was 95.6 per cent, compared to 96.8 per cent for the Tokyo Olympics."

Parsons also referenced a British example that he finds cause for optimism, pointing out findings made last year that show the number of disabled people in the workplace in Britain has increased by more than a million since 2012.

"We like to think that has much to do with the change in attitude that happened because of the London 2012 Games," he said.

"We believe that this all has to do with this period of promotion of the Paralympics. The Olympics and the Paralympics are being regarded at a very similar level.

"And when the Games come, this is the moment when we believe there is a changing of attitudes. The Tokyo population will go to the venues and they will witness top class sport.

"So you have this transformation that takes place. It happened in Beijing, it happened in London, it happened in Rio, and it will happen in Tokyo.

"It is easy to monitor changes in hotel rooms or legislation. A change of attitude – that you have to monitor for a longer period of time. This is a soft legacy, an intangible legacy."