The Road to Tokyo 2020: Change starts with sport

For many, the journey to Tokyo is a simple one but for Aljomal Liban Ali Mohammed of Yemen, it involved a challenging two-week journey with no guarantees.

There has been no Japanese Embassy in Yemen since Civil War broke out in 2015. For Aljomal and his colleague Eshaq Abdulqudos Mohammed Ahmed it meant they had to travel to another country to attain the visa they needed to enter Japan.

This was all for a three-day workshop being held just outside Japan’s capital city for National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) from Asia in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

For Yemen, the Paralympic Games provides citizens with hope. The nation has also not sent an athlete to the Paralympic Games since Barcelona 1992.

“This is very important to our country because the whole country is at war and we have a lot of people with impairments,” Liban said.

“Those people didn’t have hope but now one way to give them hope is through sport and that’s why this programme is very important. We will take our experience to help develop those people.”

Liban and Eshaq participating in taekwondo workshop

They are currently preparing an athlete for Tokyo 2020 in taekwondo and hope to have them qualified early next year, but the future also looks strong for the sport in Yemen.

In the build up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Tokyo 2020, the Japan Paralympic Committee, Agitos Foundation and Tsukuba University joined together to bring a unique and wonderful opportunity for NPCs to grow and develop in Para sports.

The programme called “Road to Tokyo 2020” kicked off last week at the prestigious Tsukuba University with 42 coaches from 16 NPCs gathering for a three-day seminar. Four Paralympic sport workshops were on offer including taekwondo which will make its Games debut at Tokyo, plus powerlifting, judo and archery.

Coaches from NPCs including Iraq, Iran, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mongolia, Jordan, Nepal, Chinese Taipei, Tajikistan, Yemen, Singapore, Bhutan, Kazakhstan and hosts Japan all took part.

The ‘Road to the Games’ programme originally launched ahead of the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto and has been implemented at both Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018 and is intended to be one of the legacies of Tokyo 2020.

“The Japanese Paralympic Committee have a vision, which is to create a vigorous and inclusive society through para sport,” JPC Secretary General Tomohiro Ida said.

“Based on that vision, we have been offered several programmes to improve the capacity of NPCs, and to develop skills and performances of coaches and athletes.”

The project gives coaches, sports managers, referees and athletes among others involved in NPCs the chance to develop and gain knowledge in the field of Paralympic sports while also promoting the awareness of the Paralympic Movement and its great stories.

Coaches attending the workshop received specialised information and training from advanced instructors about each of their chosen sports including sessions on understanding classification and practical sessions on training athletes with impairments.

Judo practical session held in Tsukuba’s University Budokan

“For the Agitos Foundation, the commitment of host cities to elevate the Paralympic Movement, promote inclusion and increase participation in para sport is a key opportunity to partner and achieve common goals,” Agitos Foundation Executive Committee Chairperson Rita van Driel said.

“We have no doubt that Japan will deliver outstanding Games and we are glad to join forces and make sure they leave a legacy for para sport in Asia.”

Bhutan, who’s NPC was only established in 2017, participated for the first time with coaches attending both the powerlifting and archery workshops. As archery is the national sport, Bhutan had only been sending archers to the Olympic Games until a shooter qualified for London 2012.

While the nation might not have athletes at Tokyo 2020, “Road to Tokyo 2020” will give an opportunity to develop the NPCs programme for future Games to have the chance to compete in Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.

“I would feel happy [to have an athlete at Paralympics] and for our country to have this success,” Dorji Tshering, who was attending the powerlifting session said.

Tshering is new to powerlifting but has previous experience in weightlifting

The programme also gives the chance for all coaches involved to make connections and support each other.

“For me and other coaches, it about getting the opportunity to be part of this to learn from well-known educators and increase knowledge about the sport,” Jumayev Baurzhan of Kazakhstan attending the archery course said.

“It’s also about networking so we can discuss together because all coaches have the same issues so it’s better to help each other communicate and find a solution to overcome and manage that.”

It’s also set to help Kazakhstan expand their presence in the Paralympic Games with the country having sent a contingent of 11 athletes to Rio 2016.

Kazakhstan coach during archery practical session

“It would be lovely to lead by example and we are working to expand our presences in the upcoming Paralympics and then next in Paris,” Baurzhan said.

“This coaching session is one of the steps to expanding our presence.”

There will be two more sessions held as part of the “Road to Tokyo 2020” with a workshop for coaches and sports managers in table tennis, badminton and swimming planned in February before an athletics and swimming training camp for athletes in May.

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