British Paralympic officials say they were left stunned when hotels near their training camp for the 2020 Games demanded they pay to make rooms accessible for wheelchair athletes – and then pay again to convert them back afterwards.
One senior figure said there had been a “total lack of interest” from hotels they had contacted in Yokohama when it came to helping the British Paralympic team, who will make their final preparations in the city ahead of Tokyo 2020. Another source said the issue had been a “huge headache” for more than 18 months.
What has made the issue harder to solve is that it is beyond the remit of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, which runs the Games. Rather it is down to individual hotels – many of whom do not see the social or economic benefits of providing more accessible rooms.
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Much to the relief of British officials there has been a recent breakthrough, with the Yokohama City authorities agreeing to create a fund to pay for modifications for the rooms that Paralympics GB will be using as part of its preparation camp plans.
Nevertheless, there remains a broader concern in the Paralympic movement that there will too few accessible hotel rooms in Tokyo for disabled spectators, journalists and officials when the Games take place next year.
Part of the problem is that hotel rooms in Tokyo have smaller spaces than most large cities, with some having narrower doors making it harder for wheelchairs to access. Another issue is that there are few bathrooms with grab rails and bath tubs. Some also cite societal reasons as a factor, with some in Japan not realising it is an issue because there are fewer wheelchair users in Tokyo than most cities.
The International Paralympic Committee accepts that Tokyo lags behind other big cities in terms of accessible rooms. However it insists that new laws have been passed by the government to ensure that hotels have more accessible rooms after the Paralympics.Quick guide
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The IPC president, Andrew Parsons, told the Guardian: “This is not a Games specific issue. There is an issue with the legislation in Japan when it comes to the number of accessible rooms. In hotels with more than 50 rooms you have to have one accessible room but it doesn’t matter if that hotel has 500 rooms, it can still just be one accessible room.
“We understand that this issue may bring some challenges to our partners, including journalists with a disability,” he added. “But the positive side, we have managed to work with the different levels of government to make something positive about this challenging situation, and we hope that this will be one of the legacies of the Games.”
Parsons said it was also important to note that the athletes village is fully accessible for Paralympians. And he praised organisers for doing their best to understand the problems and for trying to find solutions.
“While there is an issue with accommodation, everything else is going smoothly,” he added. “And it has been really a pleasure to work alongside the Tokyo organising committee and the government. They understand the challenges they have, and they even on this difficult issue they are finding solutions. They don’t deny they have a challenge or a problem. And I believe the Games will be absolutely fantastic.”
The Tokyo organising committee has said that the city has about 700 accessible rooms – though a senior figure in one British sport told the Guardian that when those rooms are judged by European standards the true figure might be less than 100.
“It is a genuine issue with next year’s Paralympics,” they added. “The organisers have stressed how significant they will be for raising awareness across Japanese society. However the largely commercially driven hotel sector has no interest in providing more accessible rooms.”
Another source within the Paralympic movement said: “We have heard that some hotels in Tokyo are making more rooms accessible for the Paralympics but are then planning to changing them straight back afterwards. Where is the legacy there? There isn’t one.”