Alastair Cotton, Senior Associate in the CoCo team, is currently in Tokyo as part of his work supporting the International Paralympic Committee. Read Alastair's blog here to find out the latest from our man in Japan!
Tales from Tokyo 4 – Closing Thoughts
I write this as we prepare for the Closing Ceremony and the handover of the Paralympic Games to Paris. What a fantastic fortnight. As the IPC’s President said last night, we owe 126 million thanks to the people of Japan for hosting us in Tokyo and staging such a spectacular Games. We always believed these Games in Tokyo would represent another significant milestone in Paralympic history, and, undoubtedly, Japan has delivered. To be part of the team has been a truly humbling experience.
There will time for deeper reflection over the coming weeks, but for now here are some of my personal highlights:
Favourite Moment: the best was saved to the last evening. Being in the tennis arena when Japanese fan favourite, Shingo Kunieda, won gold in the Wheelchair Tennis singles was a special moment. The stands were packed with volunteers who revelled in the opportunity to watch the home favourite win his third Paralympic title. How much this meant to Kunieda himself was clear for all to see. It will long live in the memory.
Home favourite wins the Wheelchair Tennis final. The crowd are behind me
Favourite Venue: it is hard to look past the Olympic Stadium, with its beautiful wooden architecture. As one of the spiritual homes of martial arts in Japan, the Budokan (Martial Arts Hall in English) was a special place to visit. For those with memories of the 1980s I am channelling my inner Karate Kid here (and during the Olympics the Budokan did host the inaugural karate competition). I loved the harbour setting for the triathlon. But gold medal goes to the Tokyo Gymnastics Centre, confusingly home to Boccia during the Paralympics.
Most Valuable Information: the best venue lounges for food and how to plan your trips to watch any given sport around lunch and dinner times. Also knowing when and where the last T3 transport leaves to avoid being stranded at a venue far from the hotel. Not that that happened.
Favourite Place to work: I cannot say a competition venue as you’ll think I have spent the last two weeks galivanting around Tokyo. So I’ll pick the IPC office in the International Broadcast Centre (IBC). Even though it was also a windowless room (like the legal HQ), and about the size of a broom cupboard, working in the IBC surrounded by national TV studios and TV companies created its own buzz. It was just a shame I realised too late that the IBC also had a great pizza and burger restaurant.
Favourite Sports Presentation: the Japanese certainly put on a show and the venues were set up brilliantly. My favourite Japanese twist was the entrance music at Wheelchair Fencing. Each fencer was welcomed to the piste (I have been learning my fencing language), carrying their sabre, with the theme tune from Star Wars. The force is strong with the fencers.
Favourite New Item: our sponsor, Allianz, gave me a German Paralympic team jacket. For those who know my immediate family links you’ll appreciate why this makes it even better. No photo, but you’ll be seeing it in an office near you soon.
Least Worn Item: my running shorts and t-shirt. Number of times worn – zero. I did find a few old Joe PE videos from Lockdown 1.0 on YouTube but otherwise my Japanese training camp never got going.
Favourite Reason for coming home: no longer having to wear a mask 24:7 is going to be such a relief. Of course I am looking forward to seeing my family (I really am!) but not navigating the daily COVID protocols is already causing much excitement. Just the 12 hour plane journey to go!
For those scanning the list for favourite legal moment, I am glad to report there was no need for any legal heroics. There have been plenty of dramas and late nights, and certainly much to learn and do better next time. But the legal operations have mirrored the overall event and passed without too many major incidents.
In closing this blog, my final thought turns to the comment most often overheard at these Games, especially from those who were experiencing the Paralympics for the first time. At first, you stare at the disability, but it does not take long to be in awe of the sporting ability.
Mission accomplished. Arigatōgozaimashita Japan.
Tales From Tokyo 3: what does a lawyer do at the Games?
One of the questions I was most frequently asked before coming to Tokyo was what will you actually do at the Games? A fair question. It was also a question I struggled to answer, not, I want to assure you, for a lack of things to do but because what can happen at the Games is so unpredictable. Over a week later that question remains a challenge to answer, as on any given day a range of operational issues arise which need quick resolution.
To give you a flavour I have set out some of the topics we have been working on:
- negotiating and drafting a range of broadcast agreements to grant the right for national TV companies to broadcast the Games. Whilst it may be a little surprising that broadcasters leave it so late (even up to the day of the opening ceremony), it is another measure of the growth of the Paralympic Movement that we are able to secure coverage in so many new countries, from Mongolia to Venezuela (and places in between). Over 15 new deals since we arrived in Tokyo has pushed us to the highest number of broadcasters
- helping put in place a policy to guide volunteers at Victory Ceremonies on whether dignitaries presenting medals should be asked (politely) to remove watches or other wearable items and jacket pins. Our official watch sponsor is Omega and there is sensitivity in permitting unofficial sponsors gaining unwanted publicity (and yes we allowed them to keep their Rolex watches on)
- solving problems with the geo-blocking measures that prevent the IPC’s live stream (available on YouTube or our website) from being available in certain countries. A short statement was also needed for the broadcasters impacted to explain the situation
- dealing with a range of ambush marketing cases (where rival companies to the official sponsors have tried to leverage the Games for their own marketing benefit) and taking down pirated or unofficial transmissions of the Games. Almost all of these cases are on are social media
- clearing the rights in relation to the music that is played as part of the athletes’ competition routine. Various calls and requests made (and a few favours called in) to gather the details of each song that will be played so such information can be provided to each national broadcaster for clearance purposes
Each day starts with a daily briefing for the entire IPC team (typically at 7 or 8 am) and there are further daily operational meetings for the staff throughout the day to ensure information is disseminated quickly and issues resolved across teams as soon as possible.
It is worth noting that my role within the IPC Legal Department is to manage three broad areas – broadcasting (both selling the rights and addressing operational issues arising from the broadcast coverage), sponsorship and brand (and specifically intellectual property and protecting our brand from unauthorised use).
There are three other lawyers in the Tokyo legal team, whose role is to manage the legal and regulatory issues arising from classification, doping or other disciplinary issues involving athletes or other officials. An example of disciplinary issues at these Games includes the right for athletes to stage protests which, following Black Lives Matter in particular, has become a contentious subject.
Classification is the process by which each sport is organised to ensure that there is fair and equal competition. The purpose of the classification system is to minimise the impact of impairment on the activity performed (sport discipline). Classification does not organise athletes by disability types, but groups athletes by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment itself. In athletics, for example, you may see single and double legged amputees racing against each other. Classification is also sport-specific because an impairment affects the ability to perform in different sports to a different extent.
For the first time ever athletes have been classified at the Games, because there was a lack of competition over the last 18 months to allow classification to be completed in time, which has given rise to additional complications.
There are also many stakeholders from within the Movement at the Games giving opportunity to plan and agree future deals and resolve long-standing issues. For example, we are finalising a new 12 year broadcast deal with NBC in America, covering all Paralympic Games until 2032 (those Games will be hosted in Brisbane). Discussions have also taken place with different worldwide sponsors such as Allianz, P&G and Coca-Cola to finalise planned initiatives for the coming years, as well as specific advertising campaigns they are launching here in Tokyo.
Finally, it has not been all hard work, and since the sport has begun there has been plenty of chances to watch and (neutrally) support the British team. Highlights so far include Lauren Steadman winning gold in the Triathlon, the GB wheelchair rugby team defeat the USA (which was fun to watch with our American colleagues) and witnessing one of the closest 100m finals ever, with Johnnie Peacock securing a joint bronze. And for those paying close attention, yes, Lauren and Jonnie were also my Strictly Come Dancing favourites.
So to close, here are a selection of photos:
Tales from Tokyo 2: Alphabet Soup (Japanese Style)
What is the difference between a T1 and T3? What happens at the PHF, and what goes on at the IBC and the MPC? And who is OCHA and why might you end up needing the ICSU? The PIAC (Paralympic Identity and Accreditation Card) gives you most of the answers and must be worn at all times. Like many organisations and events the Paralympic Games operates with its own language. As a first time Gamer it has been important to get to grips with this quickly, and I thought I would share some of it with you too.
T1 and T3 refer to different transport privileges. If you have access to T1, you know you are important. T1 status gives you a car and a driver for the whole period of the Games to take you anywhere you like (well it would have done before COVID). T1 is reserved for the Presidents and the Chief Executives and other dignitaries of the IPC and the Local Organising Committee (known as the OCOG – there you go another acronym). Some lucky souls also get T2 privileges, which gives them a guaranteed lift any time of day or night. T3 is the transport network that enables the rest of the IPC staff and others working behind the scenes to move around (so not the athletes or their coaches, who are bused from the Athlete’s Village to their competition venues, and definitely not the media). If you can find a T3 stop there’s usually a gang of volunteers to set you on your way. It’s brilliantly efficient (and better than your average bus network back home) but so far has only taken me from one hotel to another.
A T3 (supplied by worldwide sponsor Toyoyta). This one took me from the airport to the staff hotel, home for the next 3 weeks
What happens at these hotels? The majority of the IPC staff stay at one hotel in Tokyo, which crucially has a 7:11 convenience store in the lobby which acts as the main food source (cafes / restaurants are off limits). The PFH stands for the Paralympic Family Hotel, which is the centre of operations for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). This is where the main IPC offices are for the 3 weeks of the Games (or longer for some staff). The legal team (which number 4 lawyers during Games time) has its own office. For now, I leave you to imagine the glamour and will share a photo in a future blog.
Those IPC staff that work in the media team or for broadcast operations are stationed at either the IBC or the MPC. The International Broadcast Centre (IBC) is the home of all the official, national broadcasters who have the rights to broadcast the Games in their home country (including Channel 4). We have added 9 more in the two days I have been here (meaning 9 contracts drafted, negotiated and signed) and now have a record number of RHBs (Rights Holding Broadcasters) for a Paralympic Games. All other media, including unaccredited or unofficial broadcasters (known as ENRs), use the MPC (Main Press Centre) as their base and it is from here that the newspaper copy that you read and the radio reports you listen to are written and filed. All press conferences happen at the MPC too. There are strict rules that govern what the ENRs can and cannot do, to protect the RHBs, and dealing with requests (or sometimes not) to side step these rules is another pre-occupation.
I didn’t have a picture of the IBC and MPC so here is a photo of the Paralympic Stadium ready for the Opening Ceremony and if you zoom in you can see the cauldron where the Paralympic Flame will be lit
What unites everyone at these Games, though, are the COVID measures. Procedures in place to prevent any infection include daily PRC testing (thankfully, given my challenges when doing this back home, these can be easily self-administered), mandatory mask wearing at all times (including in offices) and restrictions on moving anywhere other than your accommodation, your place of work and your T3 (or T1). And telling OCHA every morning how you feel, what your temperature is and where you are going.
However, given the general unease within the Japanese population at staging these Games at this time, there is a team of volunteers and workers always ready to greet and guide you, unfailingly courteous, enthusiastic and cheerful. Each one of them has been a highlight of the first days in Tokyo.
But now the preparations are almost done, and it’s time to give the athletes their stage. The Opening Ceremony starts tomorrow night (12pm UK time) and the sport begins on Wednesday. Be sure to tune in.
Tales from Tokyo 1: Let the Games Begin!
On Tuesday 24 August, the Paralympic Games will open in Tokyo. We hope the following two weeks of competition will showcase Para sport (or disability sport) to the world and change perceptions of disability. There have been many moments over the last 18 months when it felt like we would never get to this point.
As a result of incredible hard work, Tokyo is now set to stage the world’s third largest sporting event, and the biggest Paralympic Games to date, in terms of competitors, number of countries participating and projected TV audience.
When the Games were postponed, there was no precedent for what should happen next and there have been many hurdles to overcome. For me it was only really when the Olympic Games started last month that we could genuinely believe our Games would take place, and those fears of cancellation translated into tangible excitement.
After the Olympic Games closed in London in 2012 Channel 4 issued a now infamous promotion campaign thanking the Olympics for the warm-up. The Olympics that has just closed provided some incredible competition, memorable moments and most importantly showed the world, and the Japanese population, that a safe and secure Games could take place. There was no COVID outbreak and it was a just reward for all the hard work of our Japanese colleagues. Thanks indeed to the Olympics for the warm up and the best dress rehearsal there is.
Channel 4's promotional campaign prior to the London 2012 Paralympic Games
The IPC has publicly stated that these Paralympic Games are the most important Paralympic Games ever, and that has multiplied since the postponement which has had, as with all minority groups, a disproportionate impact on disabled people. But why are they so important? Undoubtedly, for the athletes, who have now been training for five years, the Games represent the moment when their ambitions and dreams are realised and it is their stage on which to shine.
For a disabled athlete it has not been easy to continue training through the pandemic, with many specialised facilities or equipment closed or inaccessible. Yet, rising through adversity is what Para athletes do and we will see some incredible athletic feats in the coming weeks.
However, to understand the Paralympics is to appreciate the Games are more than a collection of individual ambitions; they are a collective endeavour driven by a shared purpose. That purpose is to demonstrate that disabled people do not have to be placed on the margins of society, excluded from making meaningful contribution. The Games change perception of disability by showcasing that there is no imposed limits on what a disabled person can achieve.
The founding ideal of the Paralympic Games was to turn disabled people (mainly injured service men and women) into tax payers. This is not to argue that that Para athletes are not competitive. Indeed quite the opposite – they are as competitive as their Olympic counterparts; they are just the same as their Olympic counterparts, with the same ambitions, anxieties and will to succeed. The IPC’s mission to allows them to excel.
The Paralympics are also more than just a platform to change perceptions of disability. They are also about delivering real change to cities and for communities. Those who have spent time in London will recall that following the London Games the number of stations with step free access multiplied many fold. A very welcome legacy, and not just for disabled people. In Tokyo itself the impact of hosting the Games has already been felt. All buses now have step free access, an increase of 30%. All hotels are required to have a minimum proportion of accessible bedrooms. There has been a rise in the number of persons with disabilities in employment, paying taxes.
This is meaningful legacy. This is why the Games are so important. Let the Games begin!
The Agitos (the official Paralympic Symbol) has been floated in to place and the Games are ready to begin
© Getty Images. Clearly not my work