TOKYO >> A staff member took the hand of her blindfolded colleague and moved it toward a pony named Gonta. “This is the pony’s neck,” she said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
It was early July at Shinozaki Ponyland in Edogawa ward, and the staff and the pony were being trained to give rides to people with disabilities.
With the Tokyo Paralympics in full swing, municipalities are busy developing opportunities for people to experience Paralympic sports. Whether the momentum will continue after the Games remains an issue.
At Ponyland, staff touched Gonta’s flanks, which could stress the animal. “Stay calm,” a trainer said.
They have been training Gonta so people with disabilities can get a hands-on experience of an equestrian dressage event. The goal is to feature the pony by the end of next March.
“We want to do everything we can to ensure a safe experience,” said the trainer.
In December the ward announced a program featuring all 22 Paralympic events. It has been creating public and private spaces where people can experience boccia, goalball and the other sports.
“We want to realize a society in which everyone is encouraged to participate in sports,” said an Edogawa official.
Since 2015 the Japan Sports Agency has been providing financial support to local governments that promote sports for the disabled, but has been met with mixed success. Of the 50,000 public sports facilities across the country, only 141 prioritize people with disabilities.
Just 25% of adults with disabilities play sports weekly, falling short of the agency’s target of 40%. A 2019 prefectural government survey of all 77 municipalities found that only eight were holding para-sporting events regularly. There is also concern about a continued commitment to sports opportunities for the disabled after the Games conclude.
But some municipalities have already planned to fund training for Tokyo Paralympic athletes.
This year Aichi prefecture provided subsidies of up to $455 for 30 members of the Japan national team to attend training camps and competitions. It also started the Aichi Top Athlete Academy to provide specialized instruction in five sports for students fourth grade and older. About 10 students will be selected for the academy, which is scheduled to start in the fall.