Team GB preparations for the Paralympic Games are still being revised on a week-to-week basis, with “an awful lot of work still to do” to make the event safe and secure for athletes.
As the first names on the GB athletics team for Tokyo were confirmed, the chef de mission, Penny Briscoe, said she still could not be certain of what training arrangements will be in place for athletes on their arrival in Japan and admits the task of ensuring all athletes are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 has been a massive undertaking.
Briscoe also says there will be unprecedented mental health and wellbeing support on offer for both athletes and staff as they head into a unique competitive environment. She remains hopeful, however, that Team GB will go into the Games with a “really positive” mindset.
“We’ve got 62 days until the opening ceremony and I think there’s still an awful lot of work to do,” said Briscoe. “Most of that work is due to compliance with Covid countermeasures. Pretty much every week there’s new requests coming in.
“In a normal Games cycle we would be busy with final plans, booking tickets for athletes and staff members who are selected and things like that. But at the moment there’s a huge amount going on to get ready for the unique environment that Tokyo will present.”
Briscoe says that efforts are being focused on making the athletes’ village as welcoming a place as it can be, including maintaining traditions such as welcome events for national teams to build camaraderie. There are also plans to ramp up internal social media operations to keep athletes in touch with each other as well as friends and family back home.
With two months to go, however, Briscoe says athletes cannot fully plan their routines for Tokyo. With organising committee rules calling for self-isolation on arrival in Japan, Briscoe said training regimes are still up in the air.
“It’s not clear at the moment,” she said. “We know that in those first few days there is going to be restrictions in terms of mixing and physical distancing is going to be really important. Because our [preparations] are operating effectively in bubbles we’re hoping that it’s not going to be impacted. Where it might be impacted is for those individuals going out there in advance.”
Every member of the British Paralympic delegation has been offered the chance to have two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine before the Games. Briscoe said that the rollout had been a “massive operational undertaking” and that while current projections suggest the target could be hit by the end of July, there was work still to do.
Briscoe also said that Paralympics GB would be taking more staff focused on mental health and wellbeing than ever before, with performance staff – including Briscoe herself – taking welfare training so they will be able to support athletes through what is likely to be an atomised and isolated Games.
“I feel very confident that we’ve done everything we can as a team to prioritise health and wellbeing, and that we’ve got the right structures in place pre-Games but also after the Games, when athletes will come home potentially to another period of isolation.”
On Wednesday Paralympics GB confirmed a number of stars would be returning to Tokyo. Hollie Arnold, Jo Butterfield, Hannah Cockroft, Aled Davies, Sophie Hahn and Richard Whitehead all won gold in Rio. Each was named as part of the athletics team alongside six others: Kare Adenegan, Jonathan Broom-Edwards, Sabrina Fortune, Maria Lyle, Andrew Small and Thomas Young.