2020 Summer Paralympics: A Beacon of Hope amid Pandemic

by Gabriel Segura || Photo credit:

“You are the best of humanity and the only ones who can decide who and what you are.” 

Andrew Parsons, the International Paralympics Committee President, spoke to the 4,537 athletes participating in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, declaring them “beacons of hope” as the world collectively faces the COVID-19 crisis. His speech was followed by grand displays of pomp and circumstance, staples of the Paralympics’ prestige. 

However, these flamboyant displays could not hide certain somber realities.  

Inside the stadium, the silence usually filled by the cheers of a live audience was palpable, and the absence of the Afghan team reminded one of the current political unrest in the region. Outside, the cries of a dissatisfied Japanese public called attention to questions left unanswered by the government; while the sporting events went on, Japan was facing its then-worst COVID-19 outbreak, with a record number of daily cases and Tokyo hospitals filled to the brim.  

The pandemic was not the only concern raised by the public— the ghost of the 2010 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, which claimed more than 18,000 lives and rendered the surrounding landscape barren to this day, loomed large, as Olympic proceedings were held as close as 20 kilometers from the former power plant. 

The six athletes of the Philippine delegation consisted of three two-time participants and the rest competing for the first time. Buoyed by the success of Hidilyn Diaz and the fact that the Philippines had consistently won medals since 2012, both the delegation and the nation were enthusiastic and exuberant— but the path would be fraught with struggles. Due to hospitals overflowing with patients, gyms had been repurposed as quarantine facilities, leaving them with no adequate training venues. On top of that, the efforts of three athletes would come to naught: on August 22, powerlifter Achelle Guion, set to leave for Tokyo, tested positive for COVID-19. A week later, discus thrower Jeanette Aveceda would also test positive, as well as taekwondo competitor Allain Ganapin on September 2. 

Though they set their personal bests, swimmers Ernie Gawilan and Gary Bejino did not advance in any of their events, save for Gawilan in 6th place in the 400-meter freestyle. Wheelchair athlete and ASEAN gold medalist Jerrold Mangliwan fared similarly despite a record-breaking run in the T52 classification, finishing 6th in the 1500-meter race in a personal best and 7th in the 400-meter race, setting a new Philippine national record, but he would be disqualified for a lane infringement infraction. 

While the losses may be disappointing, the nation’s continued participation in the Paralympics is always a positive. The value of the games goes beyond mere athletic recognition and to the broader cause of visibility and understanding toward the fifteen percent of the global population living with disabilities. While the current circumstances have proven difficult, the ardent spirit of the disabled community remains unbroken.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s