Unity and diversity: Tokyo bids farewell to Paralympic Games in Closing Ceremony

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Fireworks erupt above the stadium during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Fireworks erupt above the stadium during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Paralympic flame is extinguished, and the curtain has come down on a memorable and historic Tokyo 2020 Games; more than 4,400 elite athletes participated, and many celebrated their achievements at a spectacular Closing Ceremony before the baton was handed over to Paris 2024.

“Arigato” (thank you) and “Sayonara” (goodbye)… After 12 days of outstanding athleticism, skill and courage, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games has come to an end in a spectacular Closing Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium.

As the world watched on, the flame was extinguished and the Paralympic flag was ceremoniously lowered and the Governor of Tokyo KOIKE Yuriko handed it to Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, via the International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons. The next Paralympic Games will be held in Paris in 2024.

The uniquely memorable and historic global sporting event, which saw more than 4,400 athletes compete across 22 disciplines, was a feast of firsts and moments of shared joy and pain.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee with the Paralympic flag during the Flag Handover Ceremony during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee with the Paralympic flag during the Flag Handover Ceremony during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
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“What a journey. What sport. What a Games. What more can I say than arigato, Tokyo. Together, against the odds, we did it,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons.

“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have not just been historic, they have been fantastic. In 12 magical days, athletes gave the world confidence, happiness and hope. Athletes broke records. Athletes warmed hearts. Athletes opened minds. Athletes changed lives.

“These Games helped fulfil the dreams of many here in Tokyo and fuelled the ambitions of many more watching at home. Tonight this is not just a closing ceremony, but an opening to a bright and inclusive future. We are at a crucial crossroads for our planet. No mask can cover its flaws.

“As we build back better, 15 per cent of the world’s population cannot be left behind. We must see beyond the athletes that have performed so well here and see the 1.2 billion persons with disabilities. They can, and they want, to be active citizens in an inclusive world. This was Sir Ludwig Gutmann our founder’s wish.”

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee speaks during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee speaks during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
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To echo his sentiments, there was a poignant rendition of 'What A Wonderful World', a song made so memorable by the late great Louis Armstrong, to spread the universal message of love, peace, unity, diversity and harmony. Sign language performer RIMI illustrated the lyrics in a sequence of signs with artworks by artists with impairments from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukishima, projected on to the field.

“Our long journey is now coming to an end. The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are its final stage, and it has been wonderful to see each venue filled with smiles,” said Tokyo 2020 President HASHIMOTO Seiko, who thanked everyone involved in making the Games happen, including the volunteers.

“Eight years ago, we promised the world true 'omotenashi' hospitality. I am confident that each athlete felt that spirit here. It is thanks to your respect for each other and your unity of spirit, even in the face of such difficult circumstances, that we were able to make these Games a success. I am very proud of this wonderful team.”

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Entertainers perform What A Wonderful World during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images for International Paralympic Committee)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Entertainers perform What A Wonderful World during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images for International Paralympic Committee)
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To the Paralympians, she added: “We were overwhelmed by your astonishing performances. We saw your conviction, determination and unending hard work as you refused to set yourselves limits. The long and arduous paths you have travelled shook us all to the core.

“Your impact as Paralympians has a message for all of us. You have inspired many of us to start our own new journeys. You have given us the insight and the power to look at ourselves and shape our own futures.

“Change starts with awareness. We are determined to build a diverse and inclusive future where people recognise and support each other's differences free from discrimination or barriers of any kind. We now move forward with the vow that this commitment will be a catalyst for social change.”

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: The I'm Possible Award presenters are seen during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on S'eptember 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: The I'm Possible Award presenters are seen during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on S'eptember 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
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Moving forward

After a year's delay to the start of the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic, "moving forward" was an overwhelming theme of the opening and closing ceremonies. And in the 12 days in between there was a stream of outstanding performances from the thousands of athletes who travelled from across the globe to take part.

Many of them were in the parade of athletes and watched up close a spectacular evening full of dazzling performances, dance, acrobats, drumming bands and inspirational messages. In one sequence a boy's life is changed after watching the Paralympic Games. For him, the sight of the athletes overturned his previously-held notions of impaired people, shaking his perceptions and his view of the world.

He starts playing music which triggers performances from dancers across Tokyo, including on the infamous Shibuya scramble crossing in the city.

In the “unity and diversity” section a “city” was brought to life by the power of Paralympians. A parade of performers came together in a stunning finale as a galaxy slowly stretched across the field and a colourful earth filled with a diversity of people, nature and nations appeared.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Entertainers perform during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images for International Paralympic Committee)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: Entertainers perform during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images for International Paralympic Committee)
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Nothing is impossible

As the curtain came down on Tokyo 2020, the focus changed to Paris. After the national anthem was performed by a sign-singing artist, viewers were then taken live to the capital in France, where musician Pone delivered an extraordinary performance, reflecting on what the athletes will be offered in 2024, with a music mix created using just the movement of his eyes.

Lying in bed, Pone, who developed ALS, a rare neurological disease, in 2015, uses eye-control software to pursue his passion for music and creativity from his medically-equipped room. Thanks to this performance, Pone, whose real name is Guilhem Gallart, and a key figure in the music scene in the 2000s, showed, in his own way, that nothing was impossible.

His music triggered celebrations at the iconic Eiffel Tower where Para athletes had gathered under a giant 2024 flag to mark the start of the countdown to the Games, and to thank Japan as the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics came to an end.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: A general view of athletes during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: A general view of athletes during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
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Back in the Olympic Stadium for the last time, “Arigato” (thank you) and “Sayonara” (goodbye) were emblazoned on huge LED screens to send the message out to the world that the global sporting event was over, and for the second time. The city first hosted the Games back in 1964.

Fireworks lit up the night sky above Tokyo as the athletes danced and celebrated and were united on the field below. They had sacrificed so much to take part and now it was time to party.

The Paralympic flame may have been extinguished but the athletes’ resilience, outstanding skill and courage shown over the last 12 days were a beacon of hope for the rest of the world and shone a light on diversity and unity, which is a flame that must never die.

TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: The Paralympic Flame is seen during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 05: The Paralympic Flame is seen during the Closing Ceremony on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on September 05, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
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