The Paralympic Games closed in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday, with Belgium ranking 25th among the world’s competing countries in terms of the number of medals won, and 31st in medal ranking.
Wheelchair sprinter Peter Genyn carried the Belgian flag in the closing ceremony as the ambassador for Belgium.
Genyn won a gold medal in the 100 metres wheelchair sprint and silver in the 200 metres. He also carried the flag in Rio’s games in 2016, after winning two gold medals there.
“We need to be mindful of the 1.2 billion people [around the world] with disabilities,” said Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee, in his remarks.
“We cannot abandon 15 percent of our population. They should not have to do extreme things to get attention. Sport has opened a door for that.”
The next Paralympics Games will be held in Paris in 2024.
Belgium’s ranking of 31st place is based on a points system in which more points are awarded to gold medals than to silver and bronze ones.
The country’s athletes took home 15 medals in total: four gold, three silver, and eight bronze.
This total far exceeds the expectations of Olek Kazimirowski, Director of Belgium’s Paralympic Committee, who had previously stated that he felt ten medals to be a realistic target.
“We can be enormously proud of what our athletes achieved in Tokyo. Fifteen medals and a number of beautiful places of honour, that is unprecedented for our country,” said Anne d'Ieteren, president of the Belgian Paralympic Committee (BPC).
“Paralympic sport is growing and becoming more professional. As a country, we have proved that we are following the same trend. In addition to the medals, we have also inspired society.”
The BPC shared the stories of some of their athletes ahead of the games, highlighting some of the challenges they face when it comes to public perception of their disabilities.
They filmed four athletes with hidden cameras as they went about their day in Brussels, revealing the stares they receive from strangers on the street who often gawk at them.
The video, titled ‘Now is the time to stare’, ended with an appeal to watch the Tokyo games that d'Ieteren explained was another chance for people to get to know Belgium’s paralympic athletes and their stories.
“People who watched the coverage from Tokyo with respect and interest, people who stared at the talents of our athletes with disabilities - we are taking another step forward there as well,” d'Ieteren said.
“Our top athletes deserve that attention and we also made progress in terms of image. Of course, there is still room for improvement and let us hope that Paris 2024, the Games so close to home, can help us in this respect. Hopefully, the fans will be there too.”
A recent study by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) found that 86% of some 2,000 Belgian respondents viewed the Paralympians as role models, while 82% felt they contributed to improving the inclusion of disabled persons in society.
Paralympian athlete Peter Genyn, winner of the gold medal celebrates on the podium of the final of the Men's 100m T51 athletics event on day ten of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Friday 03 September 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS
Paralympian athlete Gitte Haenen pictured in action during the final of the Women's Long Jump T63 athletics event on day nine of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Thursday 02 September 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. BELGA PHOTO JASPER JACOBS.