Japan Games: Review Sports Event in Response to Changing Times

The Japan Games, the national sports festival annually hosted by each prefecture in rotation, has been the subject of vigorous debate. The significance of the event and how it is operated should be reviewed in light of the changing times.

The Japan Games started in 1946 under the name the National Sports Festival, and its name was changed this year. In recent years, the National Sports Festival for People with a Disability has also been held after the closing of the games. The second round of all prefectures hosting the event will be completed with the Japan Games scheduled to take place in Okinawa Prefecture in 2034.

Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai, who serves as president of the National Governors’ Association, raised a question about the Japan Games, saying, “Discontinuation is one idea.” Several other governors have also called for a review.

Governors probably are aware of problems regarding the event and feel they should stop and fundamentally reexamine it, rather than entering the third round of hosting under the current form.

The games have so far played a certain role in promoting sports in the nation overall as well as regional areas. Hosting the event has led to the development of athletic facilities and roads throughout the country. The games have also contributed to the popularization of sports — including lesser-known ones — the development of athletes and coaches, and improving the level of competitiveness.

However, many governors have expressed their feeling that hosting the games puts a heavy financial burden on the prefectures.

Although the event is jointly sponsored by the host prefecture, the central government and the Japan Sport Association, the majority of the expenses have been borne by the host prefecture.

Saga Prefecture, this year’s host, will allocate a total of ¥15.7 billion for putting on the event and developing facilities. The population is declining, especially in rural prefectures, and fiscal conditions are tight. There is concern that some prefectures may find it difficult to host the games independently in the future.

For this reason, the sports association plans to establish a new forum for discussion, including the governors’ association, to formulate the future direction of the event. The governors’ association is also gathering and consolidating opinions.

To make the Japan Games sustainable, it is essential to review the share of the burden among the three parties. Simplifying the opening ceremony, utilizing existing facilities, holding the games every other year and holding them over a wide area in multiple prefectures may be ideas to reduce the burden.

In terms of competition at the event, the fact that the host prefectures have scouted talented athletes, aiming to win the overall championship, has been described as a problem. With the population increasingly concentrated in urban areas, an alternative to the current format of prefectures competing against each other is also an issue to be considered.

Many elite athletes do not participate in the event, instead giving priority to international competitions. Discussions should not be avoided as to whether the concept of the Japan Games as “the largest and best all-around sports event in Japan” is appropriate.

For many athletes, competing in the games remains a major goal. It is important to have a wide range of discussions on how the games should be organized and the role of sports in light of the current situation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 6, 2024)