Mike Rowbottom @insidethegames.biz

Earlier this week I spoke to Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee, in an interview to mark 500 days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics get under way.

After discussing the IPC’s most pressing concerns over the next Paralympics – with lingering questions over the budget due to be answered in May, the urgent focus is still on the likely lack of accessible hotel rooms for wheelchair users present either as spectators or Games-related personnel – my own focus shifted to the momentous decision Parsons announced in February and confirmed in March.

That was, of course, the decision to lift – conditionally – the suspension imposed upon the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) just two days into the Rio 2016 Olympics following revelations of state-sponsored doping in that country.

IPC President Andrew Parsons, pictured speaking in his native Brazil last year, said the decision to conditionally reinstate the Russian Paralympic Committee this year was
IPC President Andrew Parsons, pictured speaking in his native Brazil last year, said the decision to conditionally reinstate the Russian Paralympic Committee this year was "not difficult" ©Getty Images

The bold manner in which Parsons’ predecessor as President, Sir Philip Craven, delivered the original IPC judgment on Russian athletes on August 7, 2016 will not swiftly be forgotten or, in some parts of the Olympic Movement, forgiven.

The Briton announced in a packed press conference that the Russian Government had "catastrophically failed" its Para-athletes, adding: "Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me.”

Craven said afterwards that he had been emboldened by the unanimous support of his Board, of whom Parsons was a key member.

The new President, a Brazilian of Scottish origin, has maintained since that he believed – and still believes – the IPC was correct in acting as it did at that crucial point in sporting history.

So I asked him how difficult he had found the decision to reinstate the RPC and, as a matter of interest, how Sir Philip himself had reacted to the new position.

Parsons, who won his Presidential election on September 8, 2017 with a huge majority in the first round, had already shown his ability to deliver in challenging circumstances in Rio as President of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee.

Diplomacy was one of the key elements he highlighted in his election manifesto, which also underlined the importance of mending fences, as far as was possible, with the IOC.

And diplomacy was not lacking in his response.

“Philip is a good friend and we remain in very close contact,” he said. “The good thing is that, as my predecessor, he gives me the necessary space to lead the IPC in the way I think is appropriate.

“In the same way, I supported him for four years as his Vice-President.

Parsons was diplomatic in response to the question of how his predecessor as IPC President, Britain's Sir Philip Craven, felt about the reinstatement of the Russian Paralympic Committee this year ©Getty Images
Parsons was diplomatic in response to the question of how his predecessor as IPC President, Britain's Sir Philip Craven, felt about the reinstatement of the Russian Paralympic Committee this year ©Getty Images

“It wasn’t really difficult to make the decision from a philosophical point of view.

“Just as it was in the lead-up to the Rio Games, it was clear what we had to do.

“After 30 months of suspension, the Russian Paralympic Committee had completely changed its anti-doping policy and procedures – to the point where they had fulfilled 69 of the 70 criteria required.

“I was disappointed that the findings of the McLaren Report were not acknowledged.

“From the point of view of the Russian authorities, it would have been healthy for them to have acknowledged that their system had been tainted and corrupted.

“But the Russian Paralympic Committee had progressed a lot and we believed it was time for their athletes to be allowed to return to international competition.

“Their return is conditional until December 2022 and during that time we will be checking on them in a very specific way to ensure they undertake the strong conditions we have set out.

“We had support for this action from our Athlete Representatives and we believed it was the right thing to do. So it was not a difficult decision to make.”

The same, finely calibrated approach was evident shortly afterwards when Parsons once again widened his focus to take in the big picture with regard to the broad ambitions held by the IPC for different Paralympic gatherings.

“With every edition of the Games we have a different vision from the host city, a different picture of what they want to achieve,” he said.

“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’s perceptions.”

Earlier in our conversation, Parsons had referenced the law that will come into effect in Japan in September, committing new hotels of 50 rooms or more to build one room that is fully accessible to wheelchair users. He noted that, as he understood it, the latter requirement remained the same even for new hotels of 500 rooms.

“Maybe this is reflecting a view that people with disability don’t travel and are not tourists,” he said, somewhat acidly.

“What remains our biggest challenge in terms of Tokyo 2020 is to change the perceptions within Japanese society regarding people with disability, to show they can be active people in society.”

Parsons believes changing perceptions about people with a disability will be the main gain of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics ©Getty Images
Parsons believes changing perceptions about people with a disability will be the main gain of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics ©Getty Images

Continuing on his theme, he added: “In Paris 2024 we believe we will have a different situation. We will not be focusing on the need to change people’s perceptions as we are in Tokyo.”

That is not to say, however, that Parsons believes there will be no big picture purpose to the Paris 2024 Games as far as the staging of a Paralympics  is concerned.

“We currently have an evaluation team in Paris who are reporting that the city is still super-enthusiastic about the prospect of the Paralympics,” he said.  

 “But we do have issues over their transport system and these concerns are shared by the disabled community in the city.”

Turning his gaze back to Tokyo, he said: “With 500 days to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, we are very optimistic. It has been a very smooth organising committee to work with and there is a lot of enthusiasm for the Paralympics within the Japanese media and also from the private sector.

“I have high expectations that we will see the flavour of Japan, with its traditional emphasis on values such as respect and hospitality, in the Games.

“Our partners, such as Toyota, Bridgestone and Panasonic are super-excited about the Games.

“Hopefully, we will see this enthusiasm translate into promotion of the Games to ensure good crowds and atmosphere, as we had in London and Rio, which will give a good platform for our athletes to do what they do best.”

One final – diplomatic – nudge…