May Japan team open new chapter in Rugby World Cup history this year

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe opening of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) in Japan is just half a month away. It is hoped that, with players’ uniforms bearing an emblem of cherry blossoms on the chest, the Japanese team will make a splendid showing in the upcoming tournament.

The RWC is an international sporting event ranked after the Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup. Since 1987, the RWC has been held once every four years. The forthcoming RWC is the ninth of its kind and the first to be held in Asia. The tournament will be contested by 20 teams, including New Zealand, one of the rugby major powers.

A total of 48 games will be held at 12 venues nationwide. As many as 1.8 million tickets have been offered for sale. The event is expected to attract 400,000 to 500,000 foreign visitors, and billions of people around the world will view RWC games on TV.

The tournament’s organizing committee should be urged to smoothly guide and transport spectators, striving to convey the excitement of games to every corner of the world.

The event will last for 44 days, and many foreign nationals will likely stay here for extended periods. To make it possible for them to enjoy their stay even on days when no games are held, the whole of each host city and town needs to make its appeal known to them.

One of the venues is the Kamaishi Unosumi Memorial Stadium in Iwate Prefecture, a facility built in an area hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The stadium lies where a local elementary and junior high school stood before being destroyed by a tsunami generated by the 2011 quake. Holding RWC matches there will provide a good opportunity to show Japan is making steady progress in post-quake reconstruction.

Fight as one

It is regrettable that there will be only a few opportunities for local communities and participating teams to mingle with each other at training camp areas authorized by the organizing committee for the use of the teams during the tournament.

This cannot be avoided, as priority is placed on the teams’ preparations for their matches. If interactions between each team and local residents are realized within the realm of possibility, however, it will be a valuable asset for both sides.

At the end of last month, 31 members of the Japanese team were announced. Of them, 15 players hailed from other countries but had obtained Japanese citizenship or were foreign nationals. This figure marks a record high. In rugby, players of foreign nationality can qualify for a national team if they meet such requirements as living in that country without interruption for three years immediately before the RWC.

The nations other than Japan from which members hail are varied — New Zealand, Tonga, South Africa, Samoa, South Korea and Australia. Michael Leitch, the team’s mainstay as captain, was 15 years old when he came to Japan from New Zealand, and he obtained Japanese citizenship after attending a Japanese high school and university.

Members of the national team will unite to play as one in matches despite having different backgrounds. That sight can be described as befitting the current times in which diversity is valued.

Head coach Jamie Joseph said his goal in the upcoming tournament is to advance to the quarterfinals. To reach this objective, Japan, which is ranked 10th in the world, must be in the top two in its pool, in which it will play Ireland, ranked second, and Scotland, ranked seventh.

In the 2015 RWC, Japan chalked up a win against South Africa, a victor in previous tournaments, but the team fell short of advancing to the final eight. It is hoped that Japan will overcome this barrier and open a new chapter in the history of rugby.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 4, 2019)Speech


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