A key member of Japan’s Sport for Tomorrow project, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) continues to play a leading role promoting sports in developing countries. The Japan Journal reports.
[This article first appeared in the May/June 2019 print edition of the The Japan Journal.]
As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games rapidly approaches, the Japanese government is implementing the Sport for Tomorrow (SFT) program both in Japan and abroad. With the goal of disseminating the value of sports and spreading the Olympic and Paralympic movement to more than 10 million people in more than 100 nations by 2020, the SFT project carries out activities based on the following three pillars: (1) international cooperation and exchange through sport, with a primary focus on developing countries; (2) building an academy for fostering future leaders in sport for young people both in Japan and overseas; and (3) “Play True 2020,” develop sport integrity through strengthening global anti-doping activities.
The SFT Consortium was established in 2014 to promote SFT. The Consortium comprises the Steering Committee, which consists of fourteen groups, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan Sports Agency, and the Consortium Members, which consist of groups that endorse the objectives of SFT and engage in international contribution through sports. Currently, the Consortium Members include 426 groups, such as sport-related groups, private companies, universities, local governments and NPOs/NGOs.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a member of the Steering Committee, plays an important role in promoting sports in developing countries in the SFT project. JICA has worked on international cooperation through sports since the 1960s. The Agency has implemented sport-related programs in more than ninety countries to date.
The policy of JICA’s sport-related initiatives is based on the following three pillars. First, JICA is committed to boosting health and improving socio-emotional skills through physical education and extracurricular activity support. Socio-emotional skills are individual abilities that cannot be assessed by academic tests, such as patience, sociability, curiosity and self-esteem. Second, JICA is committed to promoting social inclusion for all people and peace building through sports. Third, JICA is committed to enhancing national solidarity and promoting solidarity with the international community through improving competitiveness in sport (especially support for participating in international competitions) and developing the environment.
Volunteer programs by the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) and Senior Volunteers have played a significant role in JICA’s international cooperation through sports. In the JOCV project, which was launched in 1965, volunteers aged from 20 to 69 are sent to a wide range of areas, including education and agriculture, for the purpose of developing economies and societies in developing countries, contributing to restoration and deepening international friendships and mutual understanding. Meanwhile, in the area of sports, JICA has provided more than 4,100 volunteers in about thirty fields, including judo, karate, baseball, soccer and athletic sports, as of March 2018.
Fostering Team Spirit through Physical Education and Undokai
In the area of sports, JICA has provided the largest number of volunteers in physical education to date. Physical education is regarded as an important subject in Japanese school education, and it is compulsory from elementary school to high school. This is why most Japanese students have experienced various sports and the martial arts in school.
The school curriculum guidelines (Courses of Study), which define teaching content in Japanese school education, stipulate that physical education in elementary school should be designed “to help pupils — through proper exercise experience and understanding of health and safety, and by considering physical and mental aspects in an integrated manner — to develop basic qualities and the abilities to participate in enjoyable physical activity throughout their lives, maintain and improve their health and fitness and cultivate an appropriate attitude towards leading a pleasant and happy life.” In Japan, physical education is understood as being a subject that is not only aimed at developing physical strength but also at cultivating artistic sentiment to nurture a sound heart. The primary focus of physical education is not on winning or losing and records, but on teamwork, discipline and consideration for others.
“Not much emphasis is put on physical education and sports in school education in many developing countries,” says Tanaka Akihisa, senior director of the Strategy and Program Operation Division of the Secretariat of JOCV, JICA. “It is a major challenge for our volunteers to encourage teachers and students to understand the educational value of physical education in those countries.”
JICA volunteers play a central role in promoting undokai in many countries as part of their efforts to promote physical education. Undokai is an annual sports event held in most Japanese schools. Students compete in a range of games, races and other challenges in two teams, usually a red team and a white team. Some of the more common events include a 100 meters race, a relay race, a tug-of-war, a “centipede” race between teams of runners with their legs tied together, coordinated group gymnastics such as forming a human pyramid, and a ball-toss event in which the two teams try to outscore each other by throwing red or white balls into a basket atop a high pole.
Through JICA’s activities, undokai has now been held in thirty-one countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Ghana in Africa, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia in Asia, and Ecuador and Nicaragua in Latin America.
Undokai is effective for improving students’ socio-emotional skills. As students practice in preparation for undokai, they gradually understand and acquire its concept of following the rules, working together and never giving up until the end. At the real undokai, they naturally learn to praise each other’s good efforts, regardless of whether they are winners or losers.
“Even students who are not good at sports can play a role in individual areas where they have strength, such as in team organization or musical performances. In addition, even female students and students with disabilities who usually have few opportunities to participate in sport competitions can participate in undokai,” says Tanaka. “Teachers can also be encouraged to communicate with students by participating in the games.”
National Unity Day: South Sudan
In addition to physical education and undokai, JICA implements numerous projects utilizing sports. One example is National Unity Day (NUD) in South Sudan. South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011. In 2013, however, a conflict broke out against the background of a political confrontation between a president who is from the Dinka tribe and a former vice president who is from the Nuer tribe, which has created tribal and ethnic divisions and a major refugee crisis. In this situation, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of South Sudan planned NUD to promote exchanges among young people from different areas and with different tribal backgrounds, with the aim of fostering national cohesion. JICA also supported NUD as part of its peace promotion activities.
In January 2016, about 350 athletes participated from nine areas nationwide and the first NUD was held at the national stadium in Juba, the capital city. This competition, in which events including soccer and athletic sports took place for about a week, ended without any problems between the players. Since then, NUD has been held every year. This year was the fourth NUD, which was held from January 26 to February 3 under the slogan of “peace and social cohesion.” The circle of support has spread beyond JICA, with twelve organizations and groups, including United Nations organizations, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and private companies providing funds and supplies. The recognition rate of NUD has also increased among local citizens, with a total of about 55,000 people attending the competition and preliminary events this year.
Ladies First: Tanzania
In Tanzania, JICA supports the coordination of Ladies First, a women’s track and field competition. In Tanzania, female athletes have even fewer opportunities to participate in practices and competitions than male athletes. Under these circumstances, Juma Ikangaa, an ex-marathon runner in Tanzania, drew up a plan for holding a sports event to discover and nurture promising female athletes. Ikangaa not only competed in the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 and in Seoul in 1988 but also won the Tokyo International Marathon in 1984 and 1986. JICA endorsed Ikangaa’s project plan and held the first Ladies First at a national stadium in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, in November 2017 in collaboration with the Tanzanian government. At this competition, 105 athletes gathered from 24 of 31 regions nationwide and participated in 11 events, including a 100-meter race, a 5,000-meter race and the javelin throw. Side events aimed at gender equality, women’s empowerment and sport promotion were also held, and female elementary school students in the neighborhood as well as athletes were invited.
The second contest was held in 2018, and 129 athletes from 29 regions participated in eight events. The athletes wore T-shirts donated by Japanese companies. In particular, the 10,000-meter race attracted a great deal of attention because the top winners would be invited to the Nagai Marathon, which would be held in Nagai City, Yamagata Prefecture. Nagai City is the host town for the Tanzanian athletes who will participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and it promotes friendship with the African country. As part of this effort, the city invited Tanzanian athletes to the Nagai Marathon. In the contest in October 2018, five female athletes participated in the half marathon and full marathon and won top prizes.
Coaching Tomorrow’s Leaders in Sports for People with Disabilities
JICA has also been enhancing its support for disabled people’s sports. In July 2018, JICA held a month-long training course on encouraging disabled people’s social participation through sports. Nine people from nine countries in Southeast Asia, Oceania, Africa and Latin America participated in the course, including sport-related government officials, instructors and educators. While on the training course, the participants visited the Japan Sports Agency in Tokyo, listened to lectures on the history of disabled people’s sports in Japan and experienced disabled people’s sports. In Kuji City, Iwate Prefecture, the trainees participated in a table tennis volleyball contest, which was invented in Japan, and deepened their exchanges with local citizens.
In addition, in February 2018 JICA sent two judo experts from the Kodokan Judo Institute, the center of judo, to Indonesia to provide instruction to ten judo wrestlers, coaches and referees of the Indonesian national judo team for the blind and visually impaired. In March 2019, JICA invited Indonesian and Peruvian blind and visually impaired judo wrestlers and Paralympic Committee-related people to Japan. The wrestlers participated in the Tokyo International Judo Championship for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which was held at Kodokan Judo Institute, and a joint training camp that was held after the championship.
JICA also sent the executive director of the Japan Blind Soccer Association and a member of the Japanese national team of blind female football players to Senegal in May 2018. The player had exchanges with children through blind football at an elementary school where a JOCV member taught as a teacher.
“We will inform as many Japanese people as possible that sports are useful for the development of developing countries,” says Tanaka. “In addition, we will also advise developing countries how good sports are in cooperation with numerous partners, such as Japanese sport groups, local governments and companies.”
By SAWAJI Osamu, The Japan Journal