The Nippon Foundation Para Athlete Scholarship Presentation CeremonyFirst 18 recipients named
A ceremony was held on March 31, 2017, at Nippon Sport Science University’s (NSSU) Tokyo Setagaya Campus to present The Nippon Foundation Para Athlete Scholarship to the first group of 18 recipients. The Scholarship was established in October 2016 for the purpose of cultivating global-caliber para athletes who can compete at events including the Paralympic Games, with the aim of enabling 50 para athletes to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. The first group of recipients was chosen from among students attending NSSU and its affiliated high schools.
The ceremony was attended by 16 of the 18 recipients, including Sae Tsuji, bronze medalist in the women's 400m T47 track event at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. They were presented with scholarship certificates by Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, and Kenshiro Matsunami, chairman of the board of directors of NSSU. Each of the recipients will receive up to approximately five million yen annually to pay for their tuition, lodging, and living expenses, as well as the costs of travel and equipment that they must usually cover on their own, to provide complete support for the activities of the young athletes who will become the next generation of para athletes.
Diverse group of recipients
Of the 18 recipients, 4 are NSSU undergraduate students, 11 are graduate students and 3 are affiliated high school students, and 10 of the recipients are men and 8 are women. In addition to Ms. Tsuji, the group includes two other Rio Paralympians: swimmer Airi Ike, and Renshi Chokai, a member of the men’s wheelchair basketball team. Both Ms. Ike and Mr. Chokai were high school students at the time of the Rio Paralympics, and will be entering NSSU’s undergraduate program from April 2017. The oldest recipient, at age 37, is Wataru Horie, a member of Japan’s ice sledge hockey team and a doctoral student at NSSU, who hopes to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics. The youngest recipients are Sakura Koike and Soki Saito, both 15. Ms. Koike is a swimmer and Mr. Saito competes in track and field.
In his remarks to the recipients, Mr. Sasakawa expressed his hope that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games would serve as a major stepping stone toward the realization of an inclusive society where everyone can live freely, whether or not they have a disability. He noted that the recipients, through their studies, athletic success, and daily lives give hopes and dreams to others, and expressed his hope that their lives would be a model for everyone. He also noted his desire that the program would lead to a higher profile for para sports by developing leaders who can pass on their experience and successes to the next generation.
Mr. Matsunami recalled the Tokyo 1964 Olympic freestyle wrestling bantamweight silver medalist Huseyin Akbas of Turkey. Despite having an impaired left leg as a result of polio, he competed at the highest global level and lost only to Yojiro Uetake in the final match. Mr. Matsunami noted that at the time this gave him and others a great sense of courage and hope, and that this shows how one’s attitude can be a source of inspiration for others. He asked the recipients to use their scholarships to compete and also to create an inclusive society.
Financial support allows athletes to train without distraction
Ms. Tsuji, who has just graduated from NSSU’s undergraduate program and will be starting a PhD course from April, hopes to compete again in Tokyo in 2020. Speaking on behalf of the recipients, she expressed her gratitude for being able to concentrate on training, and said that she would work hard to become a medalist in multiple events, and also to contribute to the realization of an inclusive society.
Para sports face a major challenge from a lack of operating funds and coaches for training the next generation of para athletes. The Nippon Foundation Para Athlete Scholarship was established as a way to address this need. The first group of 18 para athletes received a total of approximately 74 million yen for the first year, and the target is to provide 50 student para athletes with up to five million yen each, annually until 2020. At roughly one billion yen, the scholarship is Japan’s largest program focusing on para sports at the university level. NSSU students were chosen in large part because of the school’s emphasis on cultivating para athletes and on developing leaders to train the next generation of athletes.
When asked about the program’s future beyond 2020, Mr. Sasakawa responded that a decision would be made at that time based on the results achieved. He also expressed his hope that regardless of the decision reached, the program would serve as a model for other organizations interested in supporting para sport.
The Nippon Foundation