Coming together

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting everyone’s life around the globe, some have been affected, and remain more vulnerable, than others. Those who are disabled are more likely to have compromised immune systems, and therefore are at greater risk of illness and disease. Chelsey Gotell is the Chair of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes’ Council (AC), and she spoke to Athlete365 about the challenges Para athletes face at this moment in time, and how the IPC is helping these individuals overcome them. 

  • Promoting equality between able-bodied and disabled athletes is a key focus of the IPC AC. 
  • Chelsey Gotell, the IPC AC Chair and multiple Paralympic swimming medallist from Canada, says the coronavirus has presented a large challenge but has also brought athletes together. 
  • The Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 are now set to take place from 24 August 2021 to 5 September 2021. 

The challenges 

The biggest thing for us is the impact the coronavirus can have on people with disabilities. Unfortunately, under normal circumstances, when you take a deep dive into any population around the world, regardless of country, race, status, etc., there has always been a hierarchy of support, leaving people with disabilities struggling to receive basic rights, putting them at the bottom of the hierarchy. When strain is put on the system, such as through a pandemic, that concern becomes even more prevalent. 

It’s troubling to think about how the coronavirus can affect people with disabilities, but it sheds an important light on ensuring that there’s appropriate support out there. For instance, when it comes to someone needing a ventilator, it’s vital that the necessary support is there regardless of what a person’s background is, and that we all do our part as global citizens to protect all populations from contracting the disease. Promoting equality for people with disabilities is something we’ve been actively working on with the United Nations (UN). 

Solving problems together 

Additionally, we need to ensure that we continue to support our community whilst prioritising a safe way to get teams to the Games next summer. It’s been really interesting to see how people have come together throughout the sports movement and to see the positive outflow of support, with everyone understanding that we’re working in a challenging time. 

Once the postponement officially came, it took a lot of pressure off the athlete community, and it has shown our resilience and optimism. Now, the biggest thing is how Tokyo and even Beijing will handle it next summer and in the first quarter of 2022, but I know that all Organising Committees are upping their game to ensure precautions are put in place that safeguard everyone when the Games can take place. 

Uniting athletes 

Whether you’re a Paralympic athlete or an Olympic athlete, we’re all in the same boat right now. The coronavirus has been an unfortunate experience, but it’s also been a really uniting one. I think that athletes have rallied around what we can do within our space, and I’ve seen a lot of unique ways that athletes are showing resilience and optimism. 

There have been live social media streams of athletes talking to each other about their experiences, and some great posts about overcoming obstacles and staying strong, which are really relevant to those with disabilities as well. It’s also united summer and winter sports athletes, which is great to see, because sometimes they tend to work within their own sports system. 

The world has changed, and every athlete will need to find a new normal when settling back into training. There are many things that are totally out of our control, but we can control how we respond to the everchanging environment and how we mentally and emotionally manage what we can control. It is our ability to work within what we can control and our resiliency that will make the difference in performance when we reunite and celebrate sport in Tokyo.  

For more insight on staying positive, check out highlights from Eliud Kipchoge’s exclusive Athlete365 webinar