The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes’ Council is to launch a consultation exercise with the global Para athlete community to gather a better understanding on ways athletes could express their views on key subjects at the Paralympic Games, while respecting the Paralympic Movement’s values and principles.

The consultation comes after a dialogue between the IPC Athletes’ Council and the IPC and was fully supported by the IPC Governing Board at its meeting on Friday (3 July).

Starting this month as part of the consultation exercise, the IPC Athletes’ Council and IPC will host a series of focus groups with Para athletes that have a dual purpose. Held in multiple languages to gather a global picture, the focus groups aim to provide the athlete community with a better understanding about the current rules, including what is and what is not allowed by athletes, and why the rules are in place. They also intend to gather first-hand the ideas and thoughts of Para athletes and how they could make their voices heard at the Paralympic Games.

Under current IPC rules for the Paralympic Games, Para athletes are free to share their views on any subject they wish on their own social media channels and when speaking to media. However, they are not allowed to use the field of play or podium to protest.

Chelsey Gotell, Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council, said:

“With the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games still more than 12 months away, time is on our side and, from an athlete viewpoint, we do not need to ask the IPC to adapt any rules at this stage.

“What is important right now is to use the time we have available to listen to Para athletes about their experiences and how it has affected their lives. We want to better understand the subjects Para athletes feel passionately about and gather views on how they believe they could best be communicated at the Games. At the same time, we must also provide Para athletes with a greater understanding of the current rules so they can give well-rounded and better informed feedback during the consultation.

“By supporting this consultation exercise, the IPC is showing a willingness and openness to listen first-hand to Para athletes on a subject that is a critical and complex topic.

“Many of the protest and demonstrations around the world in recent years, whether they be about race or gender equality, are based on the fight against discrimination, a daily fight that all persons with disabilities are familiar with as they are part of the world’s largest marginalised group.

“As an organisation that is committed to driving social inclusion and advancing human rights, it appears logical for the IPC to allow protests around discrimination at the Games.  However, the whole area of Games’ protests is something of a Pandora’s box. Allowing protests would give a platform for subjects many people agree with but also would give the green light for protests to take place on subjects that people might find abhorrent.  Clearly, a fine balance needs to be struck as the last thing we want the Games to be is a platform for spreading hate.

“At the same time as the IPC Athletes’ Council feel it is important that Para athletes can speak up at the Games, it is also vitally important for Para athletes to have the right to not speak up and be protected in doing so.”

IPC President Andrew Parsons added:

“As an athlete-centred organisation that has inclusion at its core, we want to use this athlete consultation exercise to listen and learn.  Once we have gathered all views, we can then shape what changes may be needed for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

“The IPC is fully committed to ending unlawful discrimination for every single person on this planet. As an organisation, we work hard particularly to end the stigma that is attached to disability while also pursuing greater equality in areas such as race, gender and sexuality. This is no small task.

“The Paralympic Games are about amazing sport and achievements that trigger societal change. We look forward to being part of the solution.”

All discussions and key points from all the Para athlete focus groups will be published on the IPC Athletes’ Council’s digital media channels.

Sign up here: to register your interest to be part of the focus groups which will be held in English, French and Spanish.