September 10, 2013
Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics this month, putting Japan in the spotlight of the international sports community.
But with less fanfare, JICA reached its own sports milestone in July when the agency formed a partnership with the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) to promote the sport in Asia using JICA volunteers. The partnership is related to another international sporting event Japan will host just a year before the games: the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The partnership is part of a little-known effort by the Japanese government dating back to 1966 to popularize sports ranging from martial arts to baseball in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe.
The first JICA sports expert, a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV), was dispatched to Cambodia in 1966 in swimming. Other sports represented in JICA's activities include volleyball, track and field, soccer, table tennis, softball and baseball.
And in April, JICA received an award from the International Baseball Federation for JICA volunteers contributing to the spread of baseball and softball in 36 developing countries. The first JOCV in softball was dispatched in 1968 and the first in baseball in 1970. Since 1970, 230 people working professionally in baseball and 54 working professionally in softball have been dispatched overseas as JICA volunteers.
But it is JICA's rugby efforts that have most recently been picking up steam.
When Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019, it will be the first time it has been hosted in Asia. One venue will be the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
Asia represents 60 percent of the world population, but no more than 10 percent of the rugby playing population, and stakeholders consider it urgent that the standard of Asian rugby overall be raised ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Recognizing this, the JRFU, a public interest incorporated foundation, and JICA formed their partnership and started the JICA-JRFU Scrum Project, in which volunteers who work in rugby are dispatched to Asian countries.
A partnership agreement signing ceremony was held July 12 at JICA headquarters in Tokyo, and a homecoming briefing session was held for three Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who had been dispatched to Sri Lanka and Laos as rugby instructors as part of another JRFU effort.
The JICA-JRFU Scrum Project will dispatch to various Asian countries Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who work in rugby, along with Senior Volunteers. With the goal of developing rugby in the partner countries, they will carry out regional popularization activities aimed at youth, and technical instruction for club teams and national teams, aimed at raising the level of play. They will also carry out instructor development activities aimed at local coaches and staff.
At the homecoming briefing session, the three JOCVs talked about their experiences.
Yu Hakuba, from Ibaraki Prefecture, worked to popularize rugby among middle and high school students and gave advanced coaching to experienced rugby players in Sri Lanka.
"My consciousness was raised on contributing to international society when Sri Lankans told me, 'We want you to come back.' I want to improve myself further, then work more in activities that make an international contribution," he said.
Shinichi Furukawa, from Shizuoka Prefecture, who was also dispatched to Sri Lanka, gave rugby instruction to players and coaches ages 20 and under. As a result of his teaching on the basis of the uniquely Japanese ideas of "heart, technique and health," the players' attitudes toward practice changed, and in the Sri Lanka Inter-mural Rugby League for players age 20 and younger, the team he instructed rose in rank from ninth to fourth under his guidance.
The activities of Josuke Takahama, from Kyoto Prefecture, who was dispatched to Laos, included helping leading players of Lao Rugby improve. Takahama, who worked to popularize and strengthen rugby in Malaysia and India in the JRFU's Asian Scrum Project, says that through his experience being dispatched to Laos as a JOCV, he felt anew the significance of international cooperation. He also said he would like to continue with international cooperation.
After the briefing session, a cooperation agreement signing ceremony was held and Teiji Takeshita, director general of the secretariat of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers, signed an agreement with JRFU Chairman Tatsuzo Yabe. They exchanged copies of the agreement and shook hands firmly.
Yabe said, "Listening to the three talks today, I confirmed that it is supremely important to continue this excellent partnership. I would like to see JRFU and JICA continue their close partnership and become a single force in further developing their contribution in Asia."