Making the transition from the Olympics to the Paralympics has always been a challenge for Games organizers, but the threat of COVID-19 has raised the stakes further as Canadian athletes and officials plan this summer’s competition in Tokyo.
The Paralympic Games are scheduled to open on August 24, 16 days after the Olympics close. Ensuring accommodations are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before the arrival of Canadian athletes is one of the main items on the long to-do list for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
“It’s still a concern, but it’s definitely a bigger concern with COVID-19 and the sanitation and level of cleanliness that we really want to see happen,” said Catherine Gosselin-Despres, executive director of sports. of the CPC.
Tokyo organizers will have crews cleaning venues between Games, but the CPC still plans to hire private cleaners.
âLearning from the experience, we’re really trying to self-manage to make sure it’s at the level we want,â said Gosselin-Despres. “We’re probably going to bring in a supplier and sort of do our own hospital-style level of cleaning and really make sure it’s at the level that we expect.”
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There is a chance that a Canadian company will be hired for the job and continue to work during the Paralympic Games.
âIt’s probably easier for language purposes,â Gosselin-Despres said. âWe are definitely looking at all options.
“You can count so much on the organizing committee for their cleaning, [but] with COVID, it’s sensitive to have people you don’t know in the space where an athlete is. We really try to control our processes with people we know, whom we have selected. Really focus on the health and safety of the whole team. “
A benefit this year, the Paralympic team will be relocating to the same halls previously used by Canada’s Olympic athletes during the Games.
âThere are a lot of cultural differences,â said Gosselin-Despres. “Sometimes we were looking for different countries and it wasn’t like people cared so much about the building, the furniture or the spaces.”
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When it comes to COVID, Gosselin-Despres said there was no research to suggest Paralympic athletes are more likely to catch the virus. There are concerns that the symptoms of COVID may have a greater impact on some people with disabilities.
Many athletes with spinal cord injuries have weakened immune systems, she said. Other para-athletes have degenerative diseases.
âThere is no clear research on what would happen,â she said.
Like the Olympics, the Paralympics have been delayed for a year due to concerns over the global pandemic. The Paralympic Games are expected to attract 4,400 athletes competing in 22 sports.
Canada is sending a contingent of about 300 people, which includes about 130 athletes as well as coaches, medical and support staff, said Gosselin-Despres. It’s a smaller team than the 400 to 450 that competed in the Paralympic Games in London and Rio de Janeiro.
No guarantee that the Paralympic Games will take place
Michael Naraine, an assistant professor in the sports management department at Brock University who studies the big games and the Olympic movement, said there was no guarantee the Paralympic Games would take place.
Motivated by money and concerns over the tarnishing of the Olympic brand, the International Olympic Committee will proceed to the Summer Games, Naraine said. But an incident like a COVID outbreak at the Olympics could put the Paralympics at risk.
Gosselin-Despres said this scenario is “something we’ve talked about”.
“We always have to plan for the worst,” she said. “We are really convinced that everything is going to be very well managed.”
Swimmer Camille Berube, who hopes to qualify for her third Paralympic Games, said a cancellation “would be heartbreaking, there will be tears”. But the pandemic has forced many events that have impacted people’s lives to be canceled.
âEveryone is fighting this,â she said. “If this is the cancellation of the Gems, it was just another event that people wouldn’t go to.”
Simpler games, better games?
Questions about travel times, testing procedures and even how athletes will eat during the Games have yet to be answered. It could be spring before friends and family find out if they can make it to Tokyo to watch.
âI know our team will be fine,â said Gosselin-Despres. “But it might not be the best thing for parents to go on a trip under COVID conditions.”
BÃ©rubÃ© is trying to block out all the noise surrounding the Paralympic Games.
âAs an athlete I can only control certain things,â she said. âI’m focusing on what’s going on today. And today I went to the pool and I got to work out, and I did a good workout.
“I keep remembering that London was different from Rio. London was an experience, Rio was another experience. Tokyo is going to be another experience. It could be different.”
Being different might even be better.
âWe could realize that simpler Games, which they are probably aiming forâ¦ are better Games,â she said. “I try to see things with a positive light.”