On Tuesday, July 20, Paralympic swimmer Rebecca Meyers took to her microblogging account to pour her dissent over United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee's (USOPC) decision to not allow her mother to accompany her to the Tokyo games as a personal care assistant. In her statement shared on Twitter, she confirmed her withdrawal from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics due to this reason.
Rebecca, who has set several world records in Paralympic swimming championships, wrote in her statement, "I'm angry, I'm disappointed, but most of all, I'm sad to not be representing my country."
The USOPC denied her request on grounds that a single PCA staff has been already assigned to assist her along with 33 other Paralympic swimmers, 9 of whom are visually impaired just like her. With new safety guidelines and Covid-19 restrictions, limitations have been put on non-essential staff accompanying participants at the games.
However, for Rebecca, who is deaf and blind, a trusted and known PCA is essential to compete in the game. "The USOPC has approved me having a trusted PCA (my mom) at all international meets since 2017, but this time, it's different."
In her opinion piece for USA Today, Rebecca wrote, "Athletes with disabilities are able to compete in a setting like the Paralympics because of PCAs. They help us navigate these foreign venues, from the pool deck, athlete check-in to finding where we can eat. But the biggest support they provide athletes like myself is giving us the ability to trust our surroundings – to feel at home for the short time we're in this new, unfamiliar environment."
The USOPC received a lot of flak for its decision after her very public statement went viral on social media.
British national Mark Hunnisett, father of Paralympic sports person Abbie Hunnisett wrote, "My daughter had been denied her own PA support for major competition since she represented GB athletics since 2013. She had a very poor experience in Rio because of this and campaigned for change with British Athletics and managed after pressure to get their policy changed."
After receiving wide criticism over her withdrawal, the committee was forced to issue a counter statement on Wednesday, July 21, defending its choice.
"The decisions we've made on behalf of the team have not been easy, and we are heartbroken for athletes who are unable to have their previous support resources available," the USOPC said in their statement adding, "We are confident in the level of support we will offer Team USA and look forward to providing them a positive athlete experience even in the most unprecedented times."
Excerpts from the official statement shared by the Washington Post also included detailed information on the personal care assistant staff provided by the USOPC:
"Because of the complex nature of these games, the role of the PCA has been filled by a qualified staff member who is able to serve in dual roles and who can assist the team as a whole when needed. This PCA joins a staff of 10 additional accomplished swim professionals, all who have experience with blind swimmers; totaling 11 staff for 34 athletes," said USOPC.