Olympic results should lead to further development of world-class athletes

Japanese athletes’ spectacular showing at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should not be a momentary event. Continued support is essential to nurture athletes capable of competing in the world.

The Japan Sports Agency has compiled a plan to continue improving the performance of athletes after the Tokyo Games. From now on as well, the agency plans to improve the quality of training and create an environment in which athletes can receive medical and scientific support.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Japan achieved its best result ever, with 27 golds and 58 medals overall. The team also won 51 medals in the Paralympics. In skateboarding and other events, young athletes’ splendid showing was also notable.

Now is the time, when the public’s interest is high, to make strategic efforts to discover and nurture the upcoming generation. It is highly significant that the government presents a medium- to long-term plan.

After the decision was made to host the Tokyo Games, the government has raised the amount of money spent on developing athletes every year, and sports organizations have allocated this to increase the number of coaches and dispatch athletes to international competitions. On the other hand, there are concerns that some sports organizations may face financial difficulties because assistance from sponsors ended after the Games.

After the London Games in 2012, Britain continued to allot the proceeds of its state-run lottery and other financial resources to help pay for the costs of developing athletes, maintaining its medal count at high levels ever since.

As for Japan’s athlete development spending, it has been decided that almost the same amount in this fiscal year will be secured for the next fiscal year as well. It is important not to cut off the current toward enhancing the performance of athletes. From now, it will also be necessary to make steady efforts to find talented athletes and nurture them.

In Fukuoka Prefecture, a project has been implemented since the 2004 academic year to select elementary and junior high school students with high physical abilities and have them try multiple sports to identify one suitable for them. From these children were three athletes representing Japan at the Tokyo Olympics in events such as fencing and handball.

Local governments have been developing stronger athletes in time for national athletic meets, but in many cases, this is intended only for the generation qualified to attend events. The continuous development of athletes across a wide range of generations should be promoted.

Not only developing top athletes but also improving the basic physical strength of the young generation and increasing the number of people playing sports will surely contribute to raising athletic ability from a long-term perspective. It is desirable to have people experience various sports from childhood and become familiar with them.

It is also necessary to devise ways to bring in specialized advice such as by having schools invite external coaches to their campus.

For the Beijing Winter Olympics that begin next month, the central government has placed medal hopes on skating, curling and skiing, designating these events as having priority to receive support and adding funds for athlete development. Athletes’ strong showings will likely lead to a broadening of participants in sports.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 23, 2022.