The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center was established in June 2015, and in November it moved into a new office with shared space available for Japan’s national para sports federations. Within half a year, the PR and administrative benefits to the organizations using the shared office space had already become clear. The Support Center has also attracted a great deal of attention from educators around Japan for the “Challenge for Tomorrow School project,” launched in April 2016 for students ranging from elementary to high school. The goal for the program’s first fiscal year was to visit 100 schools, and applications from more than this number of schools were received within roughly three months.
Shared Office Space Streamlines Administration and Facilitates Public Relations
The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center was launched in May 2015, following the announcement that Tokyo would be hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The aim of the Support Center is to raise public awareness, hold educational events at schools, and engage in other para sports–related activities as a way of contributing to the success of the Tokyo Paralympics and the Paralympic movement as a whole, while also helping to bring about an inclusive society in which everyone can lead active, fulfilling lives.
One of the events organized by the Support Center during its first year was the “Para Ekiden in Tokyo 2015,” held at Komazawa Olympic Park in November 2015. Teams made up of athletes with and without disabilities competed in a relay marathon (ekiden), and more than 14,000 spectators, athletes, and volunteers took part in the lively event.
The shared office space, opened in November 2015 on the fourth floor of The Nippon Foundation headquarters in Tokyo, is one of the initiatives that has demonstrated concrete benefits. Most para sports organizations in Japan are small in scale, with no dedicated office or full-time staff, and many operate from the home of a representative or coach. The Support Center therefore decided to provide these organizations with administrative support in the form of shared office space that would facilitate their efforts to organize and publicize para sport events. The shared office is about more than just providing these groups with an office and facilities; the open design of the office makes it easy for members of different organizations to interact and exchange information, and translation assistance is also available for communications with para sports organizations overseas. The office is also used for study sessions, seminars, and other events to bolster the federations’ organizational foundations and address issues that are essential for the development of a sport, including public relations and areas requiring highly specialized knowledge like legal and tax-related issues.
Susumu Yoshida, president of the Japanese Para Powerlifting Federation, which is one of the groups using the office, described the new shared space as “generating groundbreaking changes everywhere.” In the past, Mr. Yoshida handled all of the administrative work related to tasks including organizing competitions, educating athletes, and preparing for participation in international events, from his home. As a result, para powerlifting documents and equipment ended up filling much of the living space in his house. Having access to the shared office has not only improved his work efficiency but also brought him into contact with other para sports groups and members of the media. This has been a very positive change, as he explains:
“The layout of the office makes it easy to see everything and everyone, which really facilitates communication with other groups’ members. It has been very stimulating for me to be able to learn all sorts of useful tips on administrative and publicity methods from representatives of the major para sports organizations that share the office with us. On top of this, many journalists and reporters visit the office, so it is much easier for me to create opportunities for para powerlifting to get media coverage.”
Japanese para powerlifters have yet to win a medal at an international event, but Mr. Yoshida says the shared office space has streamlined the federation’s administrative work, making it easier to focus on supporting the athletes. He says with confidence that the aim for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be to “win several medals.”
Para Sports School Visitation Program to Learn from Vibrant Para Athletes
One of the Support Center’s activities that is gaining the most attention today is the “Challenge for Tomorrow School project”. Launched in April 2016, this hands-on activity targets elementary, junior high, and senior high schools throughout Japan, with the aim of promoting and encouraging an understanding of para sports, while at the same time providing students with opportunities to learn and perceive things on their own. The “Challenge for Tomorrow School project” allows students to experience para sports firsthand together with para athletes so they can get a sense of the excitement and fun of a real game situation, and also see how impressive the para athletes are in action. The Support Center hopes that these experiences will change the students’ assumptions regarding disabilities and help them understand the necessity of a variety of people being able to coexist in society.
The director and instructor of the “Challenge for Tomorrow School project” is Shinji Negi, who was the captain of Japan’s men’s wheelchair basketball team at the Sydney Paralympics. The program’s aim is to have 500,000 students from 1,000 schools participate in the program by 2020. Mr. Negi says that the program has already received applications to host the program from more than 100 schools, which was the program’s first-year goal, demonstrating the strong interest in the program among educators.
On May 18, 2016, lively the “Challenge for Tomorrow School project” events were held at two public junior high schools in the city of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. For wheelchair basketball, the size of the court, the height of the hoops, and the distance for the free-throw line are all the same as for traditional basketball. Mr. Negi wowed the students by sinking a three-point shot that would have been difficult for an abled-bodied player to make standing up. After this display of his skills on the court, some of the students and teachers got into wheelchairs to experience the sport for themselves. The other students gathered around the court got into the action by chasing down loose balls and enthusiastically cheering on the competitors.
After the game the students had a question-and-answer session with Mr. Negi. He conveyed a strong message that “society is what creates disabilities,” and that “if everyone works together disabilities would disappear.” Later, one of the teachers commented: “In the past, I have discussed the issue of persons with disabilities or of a society without disabilities in class and elsewhere, but I thought the key point was to provide support. Seeing persons with disabilities who are active in the “Challenge for Tomorrow School project,” however, taught me about disabilities within society from the perspective of living active, fulfilling lives. I want to plant a fresh and natural response in the hearts of students and incorporate what I have learned into my own future activities.”
Mr. Negi said that he hopes to “draw on the power of Tokyo hosting the 2020 Paralympics to convey to a wider audience the idea of a ‘society in which everyone can shine’ and actually create that kind of society.” Toward that end, he wants to “create a class style for the “Challenge for Tomorrow School project” that allows not only Paralympians like me but any persons with disabilities who are a shining example in their communities to take part as instructors.” This is the ideal he has for this initiative in the period leading up to 2020 and in the years beyond.
Photographs by Kei Kodera, Noriaki Miwa, and others