By Sarah Nasir | For IBSA
The Japanese blind football team is hoping to bring a new love of the game to their country as the clock ticks down to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Whilst not a traditional football culture, in recent years the sport has been growing in Japan.
National team captain Ryo Kawamura is hoping that blind football can ride the wave of that new popularity, as well as the enthusiasm for the Paralympics, and carry his players into a new era.
“Japan is very excited to host the Paralympics next year. Especially after celebrating one year before the opening of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games on August 25, 2019, not a single day has passed without seeing TV programmes, articles or events focusing on the Paralympics. The Japanese government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other local city governments are also hosting various events and providing information through their websites.”
Tokyo will be hosting its second Paralympic Games after the first in 1964. Much has changed in the intervening 56 years, including the huge growth in the Paralympic Movement and awareness of Para sports like blind football. Back in the sixties, the Japanese public did not get the chance to see the sport because it was not on the programme.
Tokyo 2020 is therefore a huge opportunity.
Kawamura continued: “Along with feeling some pressure, Team Japan is so excited and looking forward to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. We hope our success at the Paralympics will bring good influence on Japanese society. In a very tough situation, Team Japan is preparing by paying attention to details.”
The IBSA Blind Football World Grand Prix has been bringing the sport to new fans in Japan since 2018.
But the Japanese team is not just sitting back and waiting for the Paralympic Games to roll into town. A huge amount of work is happening to promote the sport, and has been for some time now. This includes a World Grand Prix which has been hosted in Tokyo since 2018, gathering some of the world’s best teams for an annual tournament.
“Team Japan is successfully getting sponsorships from many companies. However, we still see some opportunities [such as the] availability of training facilities for those in need as well as the understanding of sports/football as essential culture in Japanese society.”
While teamwork, dedication and staff support have built the current status, the media too has a significant role in allowing the sport to reach new fans. The interest is especially important in a country where other sports, such as martial arts, have traditionally been the most popular.
“We’ve had so many matches to gain game experiences and get stronger. Highly professional staff have also been providing support for team Japan to win,” Kawamura said.
“Members of team Japan get a lot of media exposure. The challenge is time management to focus on football training while accommodating the press.”
In one year’s time the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will be nearing their end. The blind football champion will have been crowned.
Kawamura hopes for much more than a good performance from his team in front of their home fans:
“I wish that more people will enjoy blind football in the future, and also, become stronger. I hope blind football will take root in Japanese society as a culture. Football has influenced me in many good ways. The sport to me is my life, my reason to live.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will run from 25 August to 6 September and feature 22 sports. Blind football will take place at the Aomi Urban Sports Park, getting underway on 30 August before the final on 5 September.
As the hosts, Japan have already qualified. However their next major challenge will be at the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Blind Football Asian Championships from September – 7 October.