What happens to Olympic venues after the Games leave town is often fodder for news. Some stadiums fall into disrepair, others like the Greenwich Park equestrian venue for the 2012 London Games, are designed to be removed as quickly as they were constructed.
In Tokyo, the Olympic and Paralympic competitions held at the Baji Koen Equestrian Park are leaving a legacy of inclusion in equestrian sports. The Japan Racing Association, which owns and run the facility, has announced far-reaching plans to ensure Baji Koen becomes a center for barrier-free access to equestrian sport.
JRA worked toward the preparation of the equestrian park—which was built in 1940 as a facility for the 1940 Olympic Games, later canceled by World War II—not just with the delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in mind, but also with a view to boosting the long-term development of the sport.
“We began planning the re-development of the venue even before Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” adviser to the JRA’s horse-affairs division Takahiro Nishio said. “The Equestrian Park was not initially built to cater to the specific needs and requirements of people with disabilities. But through our preparations for the Paralympic Games, we have gained a better understanding of what we need to do to create a safe and welcoming structure which allows people with different impairments to fully enjoy all that equestrian sport has to offer.
“All our development plans have been created to include accessibility requirements for people with disabilities so that the Equestrian Park, which also functions as a city park, can bring clear benefits to our community even after the Paralympic Games have ended,” Nishio added.
Opened in 1940, the Equestrian Park was created to provide training for riders and horses, and to host equestrian competitions as well as educational and training programs. The venue was scheduled to host the equestrian competitions at the 1940 Olympic Games, which were cancelled on account of war. It was a natural choice for the equestrian events at the Olympic Games that were subsequently held in Tokyo in 1964.
The original plan for equestrian put forward by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee was for a temporary venue in the Tokyo Bay area. However, the JRA and the Japanese Equestrian Federation pushed instead to reuse the 1964 Olympic equestrian venue at Baji Koen. The Fédération Equestre Internationale supported the Baji Koen plan because of its potential to deliver a more tangible and useful legacy for equestrian sport in Japan.
With the Tokyo Games now past, the JRA has said it plans to create pathways and programs that allow riders engaged in therapeutic programs and gradually build into competitive para-dressage. Japan currently has only a few therapeutic riding clubs nationwide, and the JRA wants to put in place the necessary structures that will allow these programs to develop across Japan.
“The JRA has provided athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games with some incredible facilities in which to compete,” FEI Director of Games Operations Tim Hadaway said. “All the work the JRA has done to date is laying a solid foundation for the development of para-equestrian sport in Japan, and they have led the way by example, through their support of the Japan para-dressage team.”
The members of the Japanese Paralympic team—Mitsuhide Miyaji, Sho Inaba, Katsuji Taskashima and Soshi Yoshigoe—trained and prepared for the Paralympic Games at the Equestrian Park, supported by the JRA.
Mitsuhide Miyaji, 63, who finished seventh in the Grade II individual competition and eighth in the Grade II freestyle, was the veteran leader of a squad otherwise made up of Paralympic debutantes. He used to work as an assistant trainer at the JRA before he suffered a stroke in July 2005 and was left without feeling on the right side of his body. Tokyo was his second Paralympic Games after Rio 2016, where he was the only equestrian representative from Japan.
All four Japanese athletes said they hope the Paralympics will be a catalyst for the continued development of para-equestrian and other disability sports in Japan.
“Until now, there has been little recognition of para sports in this country,” Miyaji said. “But the Paralympics have been a good opportunity for many people to learn about para-equestrian and for them to see how people with various disabilities can get involved in the sport.”