Innovators are joining Paralympians to discuss how sport can help to build a more inclusive society in a series of online discussions organized by the UN to coincide with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which continues until 5 September.
After losing her right leg in a car accident as a Japanese high school student, Kaede Maegawa was grateful when her friends offered her support. Yet, she sometimes felt that she wouldn’t be capable of doing anything on her own.
In order to regain her confidence, she asked her friends and teachers to let her try do things on her own. This started her on the road to becoming an elite athlete, and a competitor at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Ms. Maegawa shares her story during SDG Zone at Tokyo panel discussion, in which three inspirational Paralympians talk about the power of sport to expand horizons, and what the Paralympic values – courage, determination inspiration, and equality, mean to them.
Ms. Maegawa, who competes in the long jump, is joined by renowned Sierra Leonean table-tennis para-athlete George Wyndham, and Miki Matheson, three-times Paralympic gold medalist in ice sledge speed racing.
Breaking barriers with technology
Innovations featured in the Paralympics can eventually help all disabled people, explains Ken Endo, CEO of the technology company Xiborg, in a conversation highlighting technology, design, and initiatives that are making sport more accessible and enjoyable for all.
Mr. Endo leads a project to make a running-specific prosthesis called "blade" available for all, not only for athletes, and is working to break down various barriers, especially in developing countries, exploring how locally available materials can be used to develop blades and increase the number of people using prostheses.
The panel also features Lucy Meyer, Spokesperson for the Special Olympics-UNICEF USA Partnership, for young people with disabilities, and a five-times gold medal swimmer in the Special Olympics.
Ms. Meyer, who also has cerebral palsy, says that doctors told her parents that she wouldn’t be able to sit up or swallow but “we are so happy to report that the doctors were very wrong!”
She is very active in Special Olympics programme which enables children with and without disabilities to compete together in team sports. “It’s important to me that everyone accepts and includes everyone, but especially people with disabilities, because we are no different.”
Looking to the future
The last session of the SDG Zone at Tokyo looks at what sport can bring to the next generation, and how it can help societies to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and improve.
South Sudanese Olympic athlete Abraham Guem, recounts the many challenges he, his team and the team’s host city of Maebashi have faced during the pandemic, with the unexpected upside that, because of the postponement of the Games, he was able to spend more time in Maebashi than expected, building links and making friends with local people.
The mayor of Maebashi, Ryu Yamamoto testifies to the positive experience of hosting the South Sudanese athletes, and believes the city is changed as a result. “Everyone must have felt encouraged to see these young people, from such a distant place in Africa, absorbed in intensive practice”.
Looking towards Paris 2024, Roxana Maracineanu, the French Minister of Sport, and an Olympic medal-winning swimmer, shared her hope that the path towards the next Olympic and Paralympic Games will foster stronger collaboration between sports movements, sport education at schools, and various sectors to enable everyone to leverage the power of sport to improve the world.
The SDG Zone at Tokyo
- SDG Media Zone brings together world leaders, influencers, activists, experts, content creators and media partners to highlight actions and solutions in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- The SDG ZONE at TOKYO is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC), the United Nations Information Centre Tokyo (UNIC Tokyo), and the Asahi Shimbun Company, a founding member of the SDG Media Compact.
- It is the first of the SDG Media Zone series to be organized fully by a DGC country office.
- The first half of the online discussion was held between 28 and 30 July, timed with the Olympic Games.