August 13, 2018
"Chalo, chalo (Go, go)!" "Denna, denna (Over here, over here)!"
On a grass athletic field, players encourage each other with shouts in their respective languages: India's Odia and Sri Lanka's Sinhalese.
On June 17, in the state of Odisha in eastern India, rugby sevens youth teams from India and Sri Lanka met on the field for an international friendship match. The teams are coached by Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs). Seventy-six players participated. They made up four teams from India, two male and two female, and two from Sri Lanka, one male and one female, composed mainly of people ages 18 and under. Young people from various backgrounds, including indigenous people and the underprivileged, chased the ball earnestly. This was made possible by the JICA-JRFU Scrum Project, which was jointly started by JICA and the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU).
The Indian (yellow uniforms) and Sri Lankan boys who competed in the friendship match. (Photo by Yohei Iida)
"The Indian players are really good. It was a great experience. I want to win next time," said Sri Lankan girls' player Nipuni, age 18, after the match. "It was the first time I was able to play against a team from another country, and I'm really happy about it. I want to practice more," said boys' player Priyo, age 16.
An Indian girl tackles a Sri Lankan girl carrying the ball in the friendship match. (Photo by Yohei Iida)
In 2019, the Rugby World Cup will be held in Japan. It will be the first time it is held in Asia. Asian players only represent 10 percent of the world's rugby players, but the JRFU, which will serve as the host organization of the tournament, is working to promote and develop rugby in Asia. The JICA-JRFU Scrum Project was launched in 2013 as part of that vision, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who coach rugby are being sent to schools, local club teams and national teams in Asia. Under the project, 25 rugby JOCVs had been sent to seven Asian countries and two African countries as of the end of June 2018.
"Rugby is a sport lots of different kinds of people can play, whether they're tall, fat or even fast runners. Rugby has a character of accepting diversity in terms of wealth disparities and ethnic differences."
So says Susumu Katsumata, deputy director general of the JICA Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers Secretariat, which serves as an intermediary between JICA and the JRFU. He is a former player. "Through the scrum project, I want to communicate the ideas 'One for All, All for One' (self-sacrifice and cooperation) and 'No Side' (respect and friendship), which are unique to Japanese Rugby," he said. "I want it not only to help spread the game, but also to lead to social participation of people from various positions and circumstances, and to promote peace between different countries and regions."
Hiroki Tokutake, a rugby JOCV, gives instruction to players in a scrum. (Photo by Yohei Iida)
On the day of the international friendship match, JOCV rugby coaches were there to watch over the teams.
Hiroki Tokutake, who was sent to India's Odisha state, coached about 500 students at a school attended by 27,000 indigenous children over a two-year period beginning in 2016. "Seeing a match between the children coached by us JOCVs was a moving experience for me, regardless of who won. I'm glad we were able to do this for two years. My affection for the children has grown," he said. "I want the children to pass their experiences on to the next generation of players."
Makoto Mori, who was sent to Galle District in southern Sri Lanka, went around to different schools and vacant lots, developing about 500 players over two years. "By encountering rugby, they learned to cooperate with friends and to respect their opponents, and there are visible changes in their lives," he said.
Sports such as cricket are actively played in India and Sri Lanka because they are former British colonies. But the number of rugby players in Asia is increasing little by little, with about 120,000 in Japan, followed by 90,000 in Sri Lanka and 55,000 in India.
The signing ceremony for a memorandum of cooperation with Ryutsu Keizai University
In July 2017, JICA signed a memorandum of cooperation (JICA’s University Partnership Volunteer Program) related to JOCVs with Ryutsu Keizai University in Ibaraki prefecture. As part of that agreement, ten instructors and students from the university were sent to teach rugby to about 3,000 people in schools and rugby organizations in four provinces and five districts in Indonesia in February and March of 2018.
Masatoshi Mukoyama was a Japan national team player and is now the international cooperation division head of the JRFU's Popularization and Cultivation Committee. "This friendship match was a superb opportunity to show the power of the project. In the future, through our partnership with JICA, I want to aim for further development of rugby mainly in Asia, deepened mutual understanding and partnership through rugby, and to give back to society," he said.
Masatoshi Mukoyama of the JRFU hands a trophy to the winning Indian players. (Photo by Yohei Iida)
The Rugby World Cup will be held in Japan next year. None of the countries where JOCVs were sent will be able to participate, but rugby sevens was named an Olympic sport starting with the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games held in 2016. The day may not be far off when Asia will produce players who can compete in the World Cup and Olympics.