The Tokyo Paralympics open Tuesday after a year-long pandemic delay and with the virus continuing to cast a long shadow as Japan battles a record surge in cases.

As at the Olympics, the event will be marked by strict virus rules, with almost all spectators banned and tough restrictions on athletes and other participants. The Games will see 4,400 athletes from around 160 national teams competing.

There are 22 sports, with athletes competing in different categories and classes depending on the nature of their disability. Badminton and taekwondo are appearing for the first time.

Here are some questions and answers about the Games and how the event will unfold in Tokyo:

What’s the history?

The first Paralympic Games took place in 1960 in Rome, featuring just 400 athletes from 23 countries.

The name Paralympics is intended to indicate an event happening in parallel, alongside the Olympics.

It grew from the Stoke Mandeville Games, a tournament organised in Britain in 1948 for 16 male and female wheelchair athletes, some of them World War II veterans.

It was the idea of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who oversaw the spinal injuries unit at a hospital in Stoke Mandeville that treated veterans.

Watch the history of the Summer Paralympics here:


Which sports are there?

A total of 22 sports will be contested at the Games, including new additions badminton and taekwondo.

Most sports are common to the Olympics and Paralympics, including athletics and swimming.

Some that feature in both Games involve modifications in their Paralympic form, like wheelchair rugby.

Two sports, boccia and goalball, are unique to the Paralympics.

What are the criteria for para-sports?

Paralympians compete in different categories within a given sport based on their particular impairment.

The Paralympic movement covers 10 impairment types that fall broadly into three categories: physical impairments, vision impairment and intellectual impairment.

Some sports are open to athletes in all categories, while others are reserved for specific impairments.

Within each category, athletes are assessed to see whether they meet a minimum impairment level, to ensure a fair playing field – although there have been controversies over some placements in recent years.

In some sports like athletics, they are placed in a certain sports class, again pitting them against athletes with similar impairments to ensure equity.

Athletes may be reclassified over their lifetime as their situation changes.

All the details about the Paralympic Games classification for different sports disciplines are available here.


What’s India’s history at Paralympics?

India will have two of the four gold medal winners at Paralympic Games at Tokyo 2020. Devendra Jhajharia and Mariyappan Thangavelu doubled India’s historic gold tally at Rio 2016 and they will be both looking to defend their titles in Tokyo. Current Paralympic Committee of India’s chief Deepa Malik was also among the medallists at Rio 2016, which was India’s best Paralympic Games campaign.

Other notable Indian athletes at the Paralympic Games include Murlikant Petkar, who won the men’s 50m freestyle 3 swimming in 1972, and Joginder Singh Bedi who claimed three medals [one silver, two bronze] in athletics at the 1984 Games.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: Complete list of athletes in India’s record contingent and their events

India's medals at Paralympics (by year)

Year Gold Silver Bronze Total
2016 2 1 1 4
2012 0 1 0 1
2004 1 0 1 2
1984 0 2 2 4
1972 1 0 0 1
Total 4 4 4 12

India's medals at Paralympics (by sport)

Sport Gold Silver Bronze Total
Athletics 3 4 3 10
Powerlifting 0 0 1 1
Swimming 1 0 0 1
Total 4 4 4 12

What are the virus rules?

Like at the Olympics, most events will take place behind closed doors to minimise infection risks.

An exception is being made for a programme to bring schoolchildren to events, but some areas have already said they won’t take part because of the record high infections being reported in Japan.

Paralympians will face strict measures during their stay, and are allowed to move only between their accommodation, training sites and Games venues.

They will be tested daily, with confirmed positive cases put into isolation and unable to compete.

Who takes part?

Tokyo, which is the first city to host the Paralympics twice, will welcome 4,400 athletes from around 160 countries and territories.

Just a week before the Games, Afghanistan’s team – made up of two Para athletes – announced they would not be able to take part because of the turmoil in the country.

The Games will feature a refugee team composed of six Para athletes, including Alia Issa, the first woman refugee Para athlete.

China has dominated the gold medal table since Athens 2004, with Britain often in second place and the United States and Ukraine battling it out for third.

Are there unique Paralympic features?

Assistants are used by some Paralympians with vision impairments.

For example, “guide runners” can be attached to an athlete by a strap on their arms or hands, but the athlete must finish ahead of the guide.

Some visually impaired cyclists also pair up with a guide who rides in front in a tandem and is known as a pilot.

And for visually impaired swimmers there are “tappers” – assistants who tap the athlete’s head or body as they approach turns or the finish to keep them safe.

In some sports, like Para athletics track, there are multiple sport classes for athletes with different types of impairment competing in a single event.

For example, the Rio Games featured 16 men’s and 14 women’s 100 metres gold medals across a range of classes.

What about broadcast?

Like the Olympics, the Paralympics will mostly be held in empty stadiums, with spectators banned over virus fears.

But organisers hope to reach a massive TV audience worldwide.

“We believe we will reach more than four billion people through broadcasting,” IPC chief Andrew Parsons told AFP in a recent interview.

A record 4.1 billion cumulative viewers tuned in to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, up from the 3.8 billion who watched London 2012, the IPC says.

In India, the Games are set to broadcast on Doordarshan and Eurosport India. Online feed is expected to be on the discovery+ app.

Around 5,000 gold, silver and bronze Paralympic medals have been produced for the Games, featuring the words “Tokyo 2020” written in Braille.

Like the Olympic medals, they are made from recycled metals extracted from consumer electronic items donated by people in Japan.

China has topped the gold medal table at every Paralympic Games since Athens 2004.

The mood among Paralympians remains buoyant though, after the uncertainties of the year-long delay.

“It’s our time to take aim at gold!” tweeted US archer Matt Stutzman, a Paralympic silver medallist who uses the handle “Armless Archer”.

Stutzman is among those likely to be appearing on the medal podium during the Games, which will see 4,400 athletes from around 160 national teams competing.

There are 22 sports, with athletes competing in different categories and classes depending on the nature of their disability. Badminton and taekwondo are appearing for the first time.

Top names include Germany’s Markus Rehm, dubbed the “Blade Jumper” for his gravity-defying feats in long jump, which have earned him three gold medals and a bronze.

He has pushed to be included in the Olympics, but so far without success over concerns that his prosthetic blade gives him an advantage.

Other household names include Tatyana McFadden, the American wheelchair racer who will be competing in her fifth summer Paralympics.

She also appeared at the Sochi Winter Games, where she won a silver medal in the country where she was born, as her adoptive US mother and Russian birth mother cheered her on.

Japan will be hoping it can repeat the gold rush that saw it bring home a record 58 gold Olympic medals.

Among its top medal hopes is Shingo Kunieda, the reigning world number one wheelchair men’s single champion and considered one of the greatest figures in the sport.

With AFP Inputs