Democrat calls on Olympics to rectify situation after Paralympian drops out of games
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) called on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee to fix “inequities” after a Paralympian dropped out of the games after being denied a personal care assistant.
“As safety protocols to mitigate COVID-19 are developed and implemented, the essential supports that allow athletes to compete must not fall by the wayside. Too often accommodations for individuals with disabilities are treated as optional instead of necessary – including in places of work, public transportation, and even in hospitals,” Hassan wrote in letters to each committee.
“The Paralympic Games should set an example for the world – setting a level playing field that is only possible when athletes with disabilities receive the services and support that they need to be fully included and to compete,” she added.
The issue was raised after deaf and blind Paralympic swimmer Becca Meyers announced she would not go to the Olympics because she was denied a personal care assistant.
Meyers said her family attempted to work with the international and U.S. committee to fix the situation, but both were deflecting blame on the other for the lack of personal care assistants.
“We contacted the Maryland secretary of state. We had somebody contact the Japanese government, the ambassador — they all say it’s not the government [and] it’s not the organizing committee. It’s the USOPC that’s blocking this,” Mark Meyers, the swimmer’s father, told The Washington Post. “They can ask for more [official credentials]. … They just did not plan for her. They knew about this [issue] in February. They said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’ They’ve had time to fix this, if they asked the right people. They’ve chosen not to.”
The USOPC defended its staffing decision, saying they were only allowed a certain number of personnel due to coronavirus restrictions implemented by the International Olympic Committee.
“In the case of U.S. Paralympics Swimming, there is a designated Personal Care Assistant (PCA) assigned to the team,” the statement said. “This PCA has more than 27 years of coaching experience, including 11 years with para swimmers. Because of the complex nature of these games, the role of the PCA has been filled by a qualified staff member who is able to serve in dual roles and who can assist the team as a whole when needed. This PCA joins a staff of 10 additional accomplished swim professionals, all who have experience with blind swimmers; totaling 11 staff for 34 athletes.”
Backlash occurred on social media, with activists and lawmakers speaking out against the policy.
“Ms. Meyers should have never been forced to withdraw from the games because she wasn’t given the necessary support and I strongly urge the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee to work immediately to address this issue,” Hassan wrote.
“While all Olympic and Paralympic athletes are being impacted this year by COVID-19 safety protocols, athletes must have access to the accommodations necessary for them to safely compete in the games – including access to one-on-one support,” she added.