“I can’t believe we’re finally here. Many doubted that day would happen,” Parsons said in his opening ceremony speech.
“Many thought it was impossible. But thanks to the efforts of many, the most transformative sporting event on Earth is about to begin.
Tokyo is the first city to host the Paralympic Games twice and organizers are hoping for another successful competition after the Olympics less than a month ago.
The kick-off of the debates was typical, with volunteers and dancers welcoming the delegations into the national stadium.
Parade of nations
The countries were led by the Paralympic Refugee Team, with athletes Alia Issa and Abbas Karimi as standard bearers.
The group of six athletes “represent the more than 82 million people around the world who have been forced to flee war, persecution and human rights abuses – 12 million of whom live with disabilities,” according to the IPC.
Due to the Taliban’s return to power, flights from the country were canceled, meaning Afghan athletes were unable to attend the Games.
“We would love to have them here, unfortunately that’s not possible, but they will be here in spirit,” Parsons said earlier this week.
Over 4,000 athletes are expected to compete in 22 different sports at this year’s Games and many enjoyed the carnival atmosphere during the Parade of Nations, cheered on by ever-enthusiastic volunteers.
One nation, New Zealand, has decided to withdraw from the opening ceremony as a Covid-19 precaution.
The team said their athletes gathered in large groups with people from around the world were at odds with their own protocols.
It comes as Tokyo has seen a wave of new confirmed cases in recent weeks, with the government extending the state of emergency in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures until September 12.
“Your time to be relabeled”
Once all the athletes entered the stadium, they were treated to a breathtaking light show, fireworks display and dance performance.
Parsons and Japanese Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto then took the stage for their speeches before the country’s Emperor Naruhito officially declared the Games open.
“Paralympians! You gave your all to be here. Blood, sweat and tears. Now is the time to show the world your skills, your strength, your determination, ”Parsons added in his impassioned speech.
“If the world has already tagged you, now is the time to be relabeled: champion, hero, friend, colleague, role model, or just plain human.
“You are the best of mankind and the only ones who can decide who and what you are.”
It was time for more festivities and artistic performances before the Olympic torch lighting ceremony. Volunteers and athletes carried torches inspired by cherry blossoms to light the very first hydrogen-powered cauldron at the Games. The flame remained roaring at the end of the ceremony.
“We have been waiting for these Games for almost five years and we have always stuck to the same dream: to compete, to win a medal and to enjoy the Games as much as possible,” said Spanish athlete Michelle Alonso Morales.
“So while these Games are different, we are going to enjoy them just as much.”
“Real life superheroes”
Some of the biggest stars in sports have already given their support to athletes in Tokyo.
Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies also wrote an open letter to the Refugee Paralympic team, calling its six members inspiration.
“Make no mistake, what you are about to do in Tokyo is going to change people’s lives,” he wrote.
“Good luck to all the great athletes who have trained so hard in their sport for the chance to win a medal,” she wrote.
Events are scheduled to start Wednesday and run through September 5.
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