AGI Top 12 in 2012: Asian Athletes Dominate Global Paralympics

AGI recaps the highlights of 2012, which we think made an impact and will continue to drive change in the coming years. These highlights and events are picked by AGI editorial team from fields of business, politics and culture across Asia.

For UK citizens, the summer of 2012 was dominated by sport (or at least watching it). As the London 2012 games seized control of international television schedules, and Olympic fever engulfed the world, even the most recalcitrant of globalplayers (North Korea comes to mind) was keen to be at the centre of the action.

The Paralympics Games also benefitted from this lust for London, as well as incremental changes over the past few decades that have gradually widened the sporting spotlight to include paralympians. Changes since Beijing in 2008, such as decreeing Paralympic and Olympic participants should have the same accommodation, food, media coverage, and level of attention at the opening and closing ceremonies, all helped ensure that disabled athletes were represented this time on a more equal footing. This also contributed to big changes for Asian paralympians.

Although there was a solitary participant from North Korea (flanked by a 24 person delegation), his presence was groundbreaking. It was the first Paralympic appearance by any athlete from this contentious state. Whilst it remains to be seen if this was merely a stunt to counter accusations of gross human rights abuses, many have interpreted the move as a tangible sign of progress in recognising disabled rights in the region.

Once again, China dominated the Paralympic medal board, and finished the summer decisively as the world’s leading paralympic nation. On the other side of the coin, there was still highly visible evidence that there is much to be done if paralympians from across Asia are ever able to access similar support and resources enjoyed by China’s superstars.

Japanese athlete Maya Nakanishi was unable to raise sufficient funding from conventional channels for her participation, in spite of coming fourth in the Beijing Paralympic 200m. She eventually resorted to releasing a nude calendar. The story became a hot media topic, and Maya suddenly became all too visible to sporting authorities in Japan. With the spotlight beaming on global paralympic bodies, it is hoped that in future athletes like Maya may enjoy greater support.

Should the momentum towards equality for all athletes be adopted by other national governments, China may finally have some competition from its neighbours.

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