Hong Kong para badminton player Daniel Chan Ho-yuen has set his heart on clinching a historic medal in Tokyo. He hopes Hongkongers who cheered on local athletes during the city’s best-ever medal haul at the Olympic Games will extend their support to para athletes as well.

The grand opening ceremony of the quadrennial Paralympic Games, held in Japan on Tuesday night, marked the official commencement of a fortnight of elite multisport matches and races. A total of 24 Hong Kong representatives will compete in eight sports, including archery, athletics, boccia, equestrian, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair fencing and badminton.

Hong Kong’s team arrives during the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 24, 2021. Photo: Philip Fong/AFP.

The Tokyo Paralympics come two weeks after Hong Kong celebrated its unparalleled success at the Olympic Games, where “Fencing God” Edgar Cheung Ka-long ended the city’s 25-year gold medal draught by winning the men’s foil individual event. Swimmer Siobhan Haughey bagged two historic silvers, while the women’s table tennis team, cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze and karate star Grace Lau earned bronze medals.

Proud Hongkongers showered local athletes with support, filling shopping malls and cheering on their home favourites. The sporting superstars also saw a jump in their social media presence, with the 24-year-old fencing champion’s Instagram account hitting 410,000 followers and counting.

‘Very encouraging’

Chan, Hong Kong’s only wheel-chair badminton player, said the public recognition received by the sports sector during the Tokyo Olympics was “very encouraging” for him and the rest of the disabled team.

Daniel Chan in the 2018 Asian Para Games. Photo: Hong Kong Paralympic Committee & Sports Association for the Physically Disabled.

“I have lived in Hong Kong for 30-odd years and I have never seen such a fervent moment [for sports]… I hope citizens can maintain this fervour for two more weeks and give us and the Paralympics the same support,” he told HKFP.

This is the first year that badminton has been included in the para games. Chan, a 36-year-old who lost his left leg following a 2008 traffic accident, will make his Paralympic debut in the Men’s WH2 Singles event. He said the unprecedented achievements of the Hong Kong Olympic team has motivated him to “fill their shoes” and “inherit their power” to bring medal glory to the city again.

“I have been the world’s number two for some time now, so I really hope after the 18 months I spent [training] in Hong Kong, I will see some improvement and I will bring a historic medal home,” he said.

The two games in Tokyo – originally scheduled for 2020 – had been overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted a one-year delay amid infections in the host city. Although the Japanese authorities pressed on with organising large-scale events, no spectators were allowed at the Olympic Games. The Paralympics will also see empty stadium stands with no audiences.

Chan said his training was suspended briefly when Hong Kong was hit by several waves of Covid over the past year. The pandemic also hindered his overseas training plans, crucial to the local player since he lacked training partners here at home.

“Because I’m the only wheelchair badminton player in Hong Kong… no one could train with me. I could only play against my coach while he was standing,” he said.

The 2018 Asian Para Games silver medallist, however, refused to let the epidemic get in the way of clinching victory in Tokyo.

Daniel Chan in the 2018 Asian Para Games. Photo: Hong Kong Paralympic Committee & Sports Association for the Physically Disabled.

“My coaching team had tried their best to… sharpen my techniques and boost my fitness. I don’t want to give myself any excuse… I hope I will play each match well, starting with the preliminaries,” he said.

Raising awareness

Since its first debut at the Paralympic Games in 1972, Hong Kong has won a total of 40 gold, 37 silver and 49 bronze medals. But Hongkongers’ awareness of the prestigious sporting event was limited, local Olympics studies expert Patrick Lau of the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) told HKFP.

The sport and physical education professor said that, while the summer Olympic games is the most popular, people in Hong Kong should understand the Olympics also includes the Paralympics, the Winter Olympics, as well as the Deaflympics for those with hearing disabilities.

To enhance the public’s understanding of the para games, the HKBU scholar said commentators for television broadcasters – who received free sub-licensed rights from the government to broadcast the events – should “do their homework” and equip themselves with professional knowledge about the events.

“The audiences do not need to be very knowledgeable, but commentators, hosts and even journalists should know the history of the Paralympics and Hong Kong’s achievement in the games,” he said.

Hong Kong’s team arrives during the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 24, 2021. Photo: Philip Fong/AFP.

Lau said the summer’s Olympic fever in Hong Kong was a “good social phenomenon” to draw people’s attention to sport, but previous Olympic studies suggested this trend is likely to last for up to six months only.

“There is no problem with extending the Olympic excitement for two weeks. But what happens afterwards? When the [popularity] of regular summer Olympics lasts for six months only, the popularity of the Paralympics in society would be much less,” he said.

Only by launching an “Olympic movement” that draws public attention to all kinds of Olympic games can the city create a “synergy” to help prolong the current athletic enthusiasm and safeguard the future development of the sports sector, Lau added.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.