Tokyo 2020 Minister Toshiaki Endo has visited Stoke Mandeville as part of the Japanese capital’s preparations for hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Endo toured Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and Stoke Mandeville Stadium to discover the heritage and modern day life of the place globally recognised as the birthplace of the Paralympic Movement.
The Japanese politician learned of the pioneering work of Paralympic founding father Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who established the NSIC in 1944 and created the charity now known as WheelPower to provide grassroots sporting opportunities for disabled people.
Meeting with Martin McElhatton, chief executive of WheelPower, Endo was said to be impressed by the 1984 Paralympic Cauldron on display at Stoke Mandeville Stadium and quizzed McElhatton on the size and the logistics of lighting the flame at the last Games to come to Stoke Mandeville more than 30 years ago.
"We are incredibly proud of the world wide recognition for Stoke Mandeville Stadium and our work to provide sporting opportunities for disabled people," said McElhatton.
"After London 2012 our mission was to provide a legacy through wheelchair sport, and immediately after the Paralympic Games we saw a 60 per cent increase in demand for our junior sports programme.
"We take great pleasure in inspiring Mr Endo and the Tokyo 2020 team to provide the best possible Paralympics for the elite athletes, but also to benefit the lives and opportunities for disabled people in Japan."
At the NSIC, the Minister looked around the spinal gym before speaking at length to two patients - Paul Young and James Puttrell - who had both sustained their spinal injuries as a result of sporting accidents.
"I had been training to compete in the IronMan long-distance triathlon cycling championships in Germany, when my cycle hit a car," said Young.
"It shattered my five-year long dream to make the World Championships, and obviously changed my life forever.
"The Minister was very encouraging and asked me if my goal was now to compete in the Paralympics.
"It’s early days but sport is very much one of my focuses as I adapt to my new life.
"It would be an amazing achievement if I were to get there.
"The 2012 Paralympics catapulted disability sports onto a totally different level and remains an inspiration for everyone."
Dot Tussler, head physiotherapist for the NSIC, added: "Minister Endo was able to observe how the original philosophy of using sport as a key part of our patients’ rehabilitation is still at the heart of the NSIC’s approach.
"Not only is sport used to develop everyday life skills, but is also taken up by some of our patients for leisure or recreation.
"Some have gone on to compete at an elite level, like the Paralympics, and it is always a proud moment for all of us when someone we knew from the early days of their injury goes on to represent Great Britain.
"We wished Japan all the very best in building on the fantastic legacy left after the 2012 London Games."
Endo was appointed Tokyo 2020 Minister in June, and will act as a key communication point between Tokyo 2020 and various Government agencies over the next five years.
A member of the House of Representatives and an Executive Board member at Tokyo 2020, he had been considered the favourite for the position created in May following the approval of a bill by Japan’s Parliament, the Diet.
He previously served as a Senior Vice-Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the 65-year-old is expected to oversee smooth preparations for the Games.
Endo’s role will also take in preparatory work for the Games, including security measures, such as counter-terrorism planning and upgrades to the public transport system in Tokyo.
June 2015: Endo announced as Olympic Government Minister for Tokyo 2020
May 2015: Tokyo 2020 President Mori welcomes creation of Olympic Minister Government post