Para-athlete Arena Opens Ahead of Tokyo 2020

There's only two years to go until the Tokyo Paralympics, and preparations are in full swing. Earlier this month, a training gymnasium for para-athletes was completed.

NHK World's Raja Pradhan is there now.

Raja Pradhan: This is the Para Arena, the country's first gymnasium dedicated to training and nurturing para-athletes. It's about a 15-minute drive from the city center and is next to the Olympic village that's still under construction.

The total cost of building this place was about 7 million dollars. With that price tag, you get all this floor space, about the size of two basketball courts.

Now looking inside, the facility is a completely barrier-free environment. The entrance and all the floors are flat, for smooth access by wheelchairs. And another thing about the facility is that there are sliding doors for wide access.

Now, already you can hear the noise of the action in the arena. Today, two wheelchair rugby teams are having a scrimmage. Quite intense, huh?

One of the neat designs of this facility is the floor has a special coating that protects it from damage from all the wheelchair action in front of me. So these players can go all out as much as they want without having to worry.

Japan still has accessibility issues, especially when it comes to training facilities. So this fully accessible arena is obviously crucial for athletes. Any registered para-athlete individual or group or team is allowed to book and use this building free of charge.

The space will be used for more than ten sports, including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, goalball, sitting volleyball, and powerlifting.

And there’s more: the exercise room is also up and ready. Everything has been designed for athlete accessibility, from the training machines to the showers.

Here is Eri Yamamoto MacDonald. She's a para-powerlifter. Eri, thank you very much for your time today.

Eri Yamamoto MacDonald: Hello. Thank you for having me.

Pradhan: What does this arena mean to para-athletes?

Eri Yamamoto MacDonald: It's a fully accessible arena made for athletes with impairment to train. Often, we as para-athletes face difficulties to use “normal” or public gym facilities due to lack of understanding of staff and inaccessibility of the gym.

This arena would reduce stress for persons with disabilities and allow us to focus on training. And this arena would also be a place for meeting and interacting with other athletes as well so that we can motivate each other to achieve our goals.

Pradhan: What are your hopes for the Paralympics and beyond 2020?

Eri Yamamoto MacDonald: All the attention para-sports is getting ahead of Tokyo 2020 in two years is a good thing. However, Tokyo 2020 is not the final goal. That's a society where everybody and people with impairments can coexist. So this isn't a passing trend. This arena will help make society more inclusive and create better understanding for para-sports as well.

Pradhan: Thank you very much, and good luck with your powerlifting.