Japan reaches out to the rest of Asia
Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan promises to be a tournament for the whole of Asia as the host Union and government development agency Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have formed a partnership designed to develop the game throughout the entire continent.
While Japanese fans will get to see their team play against current world champions New Zealand this weekend in Tokyo, there is an altogether more low-key, behind-the-scenes campaign going on to grow the game in the region.
The JICA-Japan Rugby Football Union’s ‘Scrum’ project is carrying out activities to popularise rugby at regional level, providing technical instruction for club teams and national teams to raise their standard of play, and developing the ability and capacity of local coaches and staff.
The partnership is utilising the long-standing Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) scheme to send Japanese volunteers to Asian countries to support the development of rugby. This has already happened as training camps and promotional tours have been led to Sri Lanka, Laos and other parts of south-east Asia.
“JICA has run the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) programme since 1965 to send Japanese volunteers to developing countries to assist in a specific field of development,” said a spokesperson for the programme.
RWC 2019 is a huge opportunity
“Part of this programme has involved efforts to popularise sports ranging from martial arts to baseball in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Europe. Japan will step into the international sporting spotlight when it hosts the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games,” he added.
Rugby World Cup Limited Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Rugby is already on the rise throughout many parts of Asia. But despite 60 per cent of the world population living in Asia, the continent provides just 10 per cent of the world rugby-playing population so clearly there is a huge amount of potential there for further growth.”
“It’s important that we use the staging of RWC 2019 as an opportunity to raise the standard of the game in Asia as well as boosting participation rates. We welcome this ‘Scrum’ project and I am sure it will build upon the successful work of previous JICA volunteers as well as what the IRB and ARFU is doing across the continent.”
Shinichi Furukawa, from Shizuoka Prefecture, which is located in the central region of Japan’s main island, worked in Sri Lanka, instructing players and coaches under the age of 20.
Concepts of heart, technique and health
“Part of our work included the fostering of concepts such as heart, technique and health. We wanted to change players’ attitudes towards the sport while also improving their overall performance,” said Furukawa, who was coach of a team that rose in rank from ninth to fourth.
Also in Sri Lanka, Yu Hakuba, from Ibaraki Prefecture, worked to popularise rugby among middle and high school students alongside experienced rugby players and said that Sri Lankans asked him to come back to train them further, showing how popular the sport had become.
JRFU Chairman Tatsuzo Yabe said: “Although it is still six years away, the JRFU is excited about hosting the Rugby World Cup 2019. It is a huge moment in the history of the game in Japan. However, it is not just about our nation. This is going to be a World Cup for Asia and we will be playing our part to ensure that sports lovers throughout the continent will be engaged in the tournament and will feel that it belongs to them.”
“We have won the right to host the Rugby World Cup 2019 with a slogan ’Tender for Asia’. We have a huge responsibility to contribute to the growth of rugby in Asia and it is our aim to leave a lasting legacy long after the tournament has finished.”
“The JRFU would like to thank the strong support from JICA and the Japanese government for the ‘Scrum’ project. JICA is proud of its long history of international aid throughout the world and working with such an agency as JICA provides the JRFU with more support for our coaches working in various countries in Asia.”
In time, the ‘Scrum’ project will work with the ‘IMPACT beyond 2019’ programme to ensure RWC inspires real and sustainable growth of the game in Asia.
One of JICA’s successes in supporting sporting participation and development was acknowledged this year by the International Baseball Federation, which gave a prestigious award to JICA for the JOCV programme in recognition of its contribution towards the spread of baseball and softball in 36 developing countries.
This feature forms part of our Around The Regions series exploring the game beyond its traditional heartands. Do you have an interesting story to tell about rugby around the world? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.