After a week of record breaking and awe-inspiring competition, the 2016 Paralympic games closed on Sunday, September 18th with a festive and meaningful ceremony at the Maracana stadium. This ceremony demonstrated the importance of creating a global society of athletes that moves beyond stereotype and toward inclusion and unity in the construct of citizenship of sport.
Perhaps the most moving demonstration of this unity was the recognition and moment of silence dedicated to Iranian Paralympian Bahman Golbamezhad, who tragically died during the wheelchair road race the prior day.
In recognition of the many sensory abilities Paralympic athletes possess and rely on, the closing ceremony began with a display focusing on different aspects of sound and their interplay with generating other sensory abilities and experiences. This included the incorporation of Brazilian carnival music and heavy metal music as forms of expression that sounds generate. Sounds of all forms not only informed the audience’s experience but also were used as a background for disabled acrobats against which to frame their visually stunning performances.
Toward the end of the ceremony, the focus shifted to thanking volunteers and athletes alike for their participation. An essential aspect of this was the use of the epic Bob Marley song “One Love” as a frame for a changing photographic display demonstrating the many different races and ethnicities involved in the Paralympics. In this way, the ceremony highlighted the unity achieved through the Paralympic games and the Paralympic movement.
As is tradition, the closing ceremony featured a segment produced by the host city of the next Paralympic games, in this case Tokyo in 2020. The first Paralympic games were hosted by Tokyo in 1964 and the segment began with footage of those games. In addition to providing historical background, the footage narration explained that in 1964 there were few Japanese Paralympians and they were shocked at the ways in which other Paralympians were included in society because of the ways in which the disabled were viewed in Japan.
The narration went on to explain that, following the 1964 Paralympic games, access to the possibilities for including the disabled in society and athletics began to change in Japan and emerged as the present state of inclusion and success for the Japanese Paralympic team. Through this part of the segment, the impact of the Paralympics as a method of creating disabled communities at the international level and using lessons from these communities to change the ways that the disabled are treated at the national level were brought into sharp focus.
The second portion of the Tokyo closing ceremony segment focused on the ways in which the disabled are included in modern Japanese life, particularly in the arts. It featured disabled Japanese designers and performers who are seen as the embodiment of modern Japan and progress into the future. At the same time, the segment paralleled the beach scene used in the Rio opening ceremony to portray an urban setting in which those with different ranges of abilities come together and assist each other in moving forward toward progress.
Taken together, the Rio and Tokyo segments of the closing ceremony created a legacy of unity for the international community of Paralympians and for society overall. This reflects the ways in which the Paralympic games helped to make the world brighter for sports fans and non-sports fans alike.