Paralympic athletes from Afghanistan were unable to fly to Tokyo safely because of chaos surrounding the Taliban takeover of the country. But in a show of respect for the country’s two Paralympians, the flag of Afghanistan was carried into the parade of athletes by a Paralympic volunteer wearing a three-tone blue Tokyo 2020 shirt. A representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also walked with the flag.
TOKYO — The parade of the athletes is always the centerpiece of the opening ceremony. At the Olympics, Greece typically marches in first, because it is the nation where the Olympics originated. As with the Olympics, the number of athletes in the Paralympic parade is likely to be diminished in comparison with a typical Games, because coronavirus restrictions prohibit athletes from entering the Paralympic Village until five days before their competitions.
The first team to enter the stadium on Tuesday was the Refugee Paralympic Team, which is making its second appearance in the Games.
Both flag bearers have deep significance. Alia Issa, who was born in Greece after her family fled Syria, is the first woman on a refugee team at the Paralympics. She will compete in the club throw event in track and field.
Abbas Karimi, a swimmer and a refugee who has lived in the United States since 2016, will be the only Afghan athlete at the Games. The athletes who were scheduled to compete for the country withdrew from the Games because they could not secure safe flights to Tokyo amid the chaos of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. Karimi has lived and trained in Portland, Ore., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He will be swimming the 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter butterfly.
TOKYO — His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, will officially declare the Paralympic Games open. Japan’s Imperial family has a long history of support for the Paralympics: The current emperor’s parents, Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko, adopted the 1964 Paralympics in Tokyo as one of their primary causes when they were Crown Prince and Princess. Tokyo is the first city to host the Paralympics twice.
The support of the then-Crown Prince and Princess started a gradual change in attitudes toward those with disabilities in Japan, said Kenneth J. Ruoff, a historian and specialist in Imperial Japan at Portland State University.
“However hard it may be to believe now, there were sayings at the time that people with disabilities should be essentially kept out of sight or hidden,” Professor Ruoff said.
At the time the royal family had a strong social influence, Ruoff added, and the Crown Prince helped shift public opinion with his view that people with disabilities “should play sports for the same purpose that everyone else did, which included first and foremost enjoyment and not just rehabilitation.”
After the 1964 Paralympics, the Imperial couple regularly visited hospitals and institutions where those with disabilities lived.
“The emperor and empress resolutely, over decades, kept drawing attention to people with disabilities by visiting them with the media in tow,” Ruoff said.
TOKYO — Organizers of the Paralympic Games have said that the event is more than a sports competition. They have repeatedly cast it as a way to draw attention to the 15 percent of the global population with impairments.
“This is the only global event that puts people with disabilities at center stage and gives voice to persons with disabilities,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympics Committee, said at a news conference a day before the opening ceremony. “Throughout the pandemic, they have been left behind and have been denied a level of services that nondisabled people have had access to.”
Generating attention for the Games, which are opening a little over two weeks after the Olympics closing ceremony, could be a challenge, particularly in Japan, where a persistent wave of coronavirus infections has burdened the hospital system in Tokyo and unnerved the public.
Outside the Olympic Stadium before the ceremony on Tuesday, there were noticeably fewer people than before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, when throngs of people gathered to take selfies along the road around the stadium. On Tuesday, a line of about 10 people pointed their cellphones at the venue. The low turnout may be partly due to the fact that the Paralympic ceremony landed on a weekday, while the opening ceremony of the Olympics took place on a Friday night, and the closing festivities on a Sunday.
Hanako Ohkawa, 34, appreciated the lack of crowds. She brought her two daughters, 4 and 6, to the stadium. They were wearing hats with Olympic and Paralympic mascots on them.
“We didn’t come on the day of the opening ceremony for the Olympics, because we thought there would be too many people,” Ohkawa said. She said she was worried about the spread of the coronavirus in Tokyo, “but since the Olympics have happened, there is not much they can do about it now. They can’t cancel the Paralympics or else that would be quite unfair.”
Takeru Shibata, 27, who works in recruitment, happened to walk by the stadium near the start time. ““I didn’t know that the opening ceremony was today,” he said. “I would watch Paralympic matches if I come across them on TV, but I don’t particularly plan on watching anything.”
When: 6:55 a.m.-10 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday
Where: NBCSN, NBCOlympics.com, NBC Sports app
TOKYO — The opening ceremony for the 16th Summer Paralympics will take place at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Tuesday. The stadium has a capacity of 68,000 but will be largely empty because of the coronavirus pandemic, except for the Paralympic athletes, their support staff, stadium workers, volunteers and members of the news media.
NBCSN will start a live broadcast of the opening ceremony at 6:55 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday. The ceremony will be replayed on NBCSN the same night at 7, leading into live coverage from the first day of competition.
Throughout the Games, NBCSN is expected to present live coverage of competition each night, usually from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Eastern. Other coverage can be seen on NBC and the Olympic Channel. Here is a full schedule of Paralympic TV listings on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel.