Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on October 22nd, 2007
Hi Blog. Writing this to you on a timer at a hotel in Tokyo, so I’ll be brief. An article on sports citing me, even though sports isn’t exactly my forte. I hope I got the information below right. Corrections from knowledgables appreciated. Arudou Debito in Shinagawa
PS: Original Debito.org feature which inspired this article at
Let’s be fair, let Japanese win – Feature
Posted on : 2007-10-04 | Author : Deutsche Presse-Agentur
News Category : Sports Courtesy of the Author
Tokyo – You would think that fairness is the virtue of sports, but tell that to the Japanese authorities. In May, they approved a high school ban on foreign students running the first and the longest leg of a relay race in response to complaints from fans, a spokesman for the All Japan High School Athletic Federation said.
The decision came after the federation received mounting complaints from fans that “African runners lead the race so much that the Japanese athletes can’t narrow the difference or catch up throughout the race.”
Marathon races in Japan have seen many runners from Kenya, Ethiopia and other African nations taking part. At most one foreign student is allowed per team.
The relay marathon and 29 other sporting events that the federation manages limits the ratio of overseas athletes to about 20 per cent of all entries, but, according to a spokesman, complaints have flooded in only in relation to the high school marathon.
One of the reasons is that the race receives much coverage on television with a high viewer rate.
Fans wonder why they are not seeing Japanese students run when it is an all-Japan race, he said.
“We don’t consider this decision as discrimination,” the spokesman said. “We are not banning (foreign students) from participating in the race.”
Japanese fans and authorities don’t seem to realize that this is a form of discrimination, which makes the problem even more serious, because people approve of such discriminatory treatment in other social areas, Osamu Shiraishi of Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Centre said.
But criticism of the decision has come from many quarters.
“They are basically saying that sports are great as long as Japanese win,” Arudou Debito, the author of Japanese Only, which highlights discrimination against foreign residents in Japan, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Racial discrimination is usually based on superiority, but it is based on inferiority in Japan in this sense, Debito said.
“This is symbolic to Japan’s sly opportunist ideology,” Shiraishi, a former official from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said. “Making nationality an issue in sports goes against the genuine sportsmanship.”
There are sports that couldn’t generate solid competition without foreigners’ participation, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees official said.
For such competitions, Japan makes talented athletes its own kind.
Brazilian soccer players Santos Alexandro and Ramos Ruy gave up their nationalities and played in the national team for the World Cup after they became Japanese citizens.
A new regulation to the Japanese national sport of sumo in 2002 to allow one stable to host one foreign national at a time, partly because the industry was suffering from declining Japanese enthusiasts but becoming a popular hub of muscle men from abroad.
The fear was that the national sport would be tainted with foreigners. But, ironically, it relies on them for its survival and the yokozuna or highest-ranking wrestlers are Mongolians.
The sumo association also came under attack in the past when Hawaiian wrestlers were climbing up to the top. Some Japanese fans demanded Japanese nationality from potential yokozuna.
Amidst the controversy, Hawaiian Akebono Taro became the first foreign-born yokozuna in 1992 and later gave up his US passport to prepare for opening his own stable.
Although one of the few retirement plans for most sumo wrestlers is to open up their own stables, the Japan Sumo Association requires stable masters to be Japanese citizens.
Others, however, remain mum about their nationalities.
Some Korean or Chinese residents of Japan who excelled with their athletic competence hide behind their Japanese-given names and remained outside of national competitions.
While the government requires and prefers foreigners to become Japanese nationals in certain areas such as sport, resident Koreans and Chinese who are born and raised in Japan for three or four generations, are not granted citizenship at birth.
Japan’s home-run king Sadaharu Oh, born and raised in Tokyo, has been stripped of his chances to compete in the nation’s largest amateur athletic meets because he holds Taiwanese nationality.
Oh was lucky to find a vacancy in the quotas for foreign nationals in Japanese baseball when he entered a professional league, according to Arudou.
But there must have been many more like Oh and could have been many more home runs or advanced skills imported from overseas to polish Japan’s athletes if not for the restrictions.
The US Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki needed somewhere more challenging than Japanese baseball fields to excel, and he found a niche in Seattle.
“It goes against being sporting,” Arudou said of limiting or eliminating participation by foreign athletes. “Restrictions make sporting boring. Everyone has a chance to be number one.”
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