Over six days, more than 800 athletes aged between 13 and 20 from 19 countries took part in the biggest and best edition of the Youth Parapan American Games, in São Paulo, Brazil. The event ended on Saturday, March 25, with the Closing Ceremony and a party for the athletes at the Anhembi Events Center. The competition’s schedule comprised 12 sports (athletics, wheelchair basketball, boccia, football 5-a-side, football 7-a-side, goalball, powerlifting, judo, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair tennis and sitting volleyball). The vast majority of tournaments took place at the Brazilian Paralympic Training Centre – only the wheelchair tennis was held at Clube Espéria.
The competition has the important objective of developing Paralmypic sport in the Americas. With this in mind, holding the event in one of the greatest legacies of the Rio 2016 Games, the Paralympic Training Centre, was vital and pleased directors of national paralympic committees (NPCs), the Americas Paralympic Committee (APC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the highest authority in Paralympic sport.
“I am certain that this wonderful stage, the greatest legacy of the Paralympic Games, will serve as a huge inspiration for these athletes, who will give their best to obtain results”, said José Luis Campo, president of the APC.
The performance of the athletes caught the attention of the Youth Parapan Organizing COmmittee. For Andrew Parsons, president of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) and the Organizing Committee, the growth in the number of athletes and the increased quality of the athletes present has left the competition more and more interesting.
“The level has increased greatly. If we compare this edition to Buenos Aires 2013, Bogotá 2009 and Barquisemeto 2005, we can see the progress of the younger athletes. [This week] we saw athletes here achieving results worthy of senior world championships. So this shows the quality of the young athletes we have here in the Americas”, stated Parsons.
In truth, Parsons’ analysis touches upon the role of continental youth competition. If we look at the last edition of the Youth Parapan, some medalists from that competition went on to make the Paralympic Games, such as the Argentinian swimmer Facundo Arregui, or the Brazilian athletes Danielle Rauen (table tennis) and Verônica Hipólito (track and field), both medal winners in Rio.
For the competition’s director, Edilson Rocha, there is no doubt that many of the more than 800 athletes who were in São Paulo this week will appear in the leading Paralympic competitions in future years. “If we look at the 2013 Games, we see athletes who in 2016 won medals in the Rio Games. So, some of those who won medals here in São Paulo will definitely be in Lima 2019 [Parapan American Games] and in Tokyo 2020 [Paralympic Games]”, he emphasized.
Cooperation of countries and mutual development
Another positive point of the São Paulo 2017 Youth Parapan was the increasing rapprochement between the national Paralympic committees of the region. This contact, according to Andrew Parsons, strengthens the whole region through the exchanging of experiences between athletes, directors, referees, coaches and everyone connected to sport.
“We took advantage of the situation to strengthen our ties with the other national Paralympic committees. And we made it so that other countries could strengthen relations between themselves too”, noted the CPB president while discussing the importance of the exchange of information among nations.
This rapprochement may see the benefits enjoyed by Colombia, for example. The country finished only in sixth place on the overall medals table four years ago in Buenos Aires. They signed a cooperation agreement with the Brazilian Paralympic Committee and worked on developing Paralympic sport. In São Paulo, Colombia improved their performance and finished in second place in the ranking, only behind Brazil.
The Youth Parapan American Games are held every four years. This was the fourth edition. The next one will be held in 2021, the host city has yet to be announced.