Decline of company teams sees athletes forge dual careers

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shuto Fuse appraises items at a brand-name consignment store in Adachi Ward, Tokyo.

A drop in the number of company teams is driving amateur athletes to acquire job skills in order to forge a second career after retiring from their sport.

“What are the points to consider when evaluating belts?” Shuto Fuse asked a staff member of a dealer in used luxury goods in Adachi Ward, Tokyo.

Fuse, 27, is a member of Nankatsu SC, which belongs to the Kanto Soccer League’s second division. With a tanned face and white gloves, he wore a serious expression as he looked at the belt.

After graduating from Kansai University, Fuse joined a Japan Football League team. His entire salary would go to his living expenses, and even though he worked part-time he was hardly able to save any money.

Fuse was aiming to play in the J.League but was told he wouldn’t be re-signed at the age of 25. He thought he could hang in there, but started thinking about retirement as a result of financial worries. That was when Nankatsu SC invited him to join.

After joining the team, he was able to learn assessment and customer service skills as a contract employee at the dealer in luxury goods run by a subsidiary of Valuence Holdings Inc., a major shareholder of Nankatsu.

By accumulating knowledge, Fuse has become confident in attending to customers. He can practice soccer only at night.

“As my income has stabilized, I can concentrate on soccer without anxiety,” he said. “I also found a job I want to continue with in the future.”

Valuence employs 15 athletes, including soccer and basketball players. President Shinsuke Sakimoto, 39, is a former J.League player, who retired as a player after being told he would be released from his contract.

“Athletes have the ability to constantly try to solve tasks, and that attitude can serve them well in the business world,” Sakimoto said.

Bad economy

Company teams used to serve as a place for athletes to play at a high level after graduating from high school or college. However, the number of such teams has declined due to the worsening economic situation, including the 2008 collapse of U.S. bank Lehman Brothers.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Fuse practices soccer after work in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo.

The number of company teams that belong to the Japan Amateur Baseball Association decreased from 237 in 1963 to 97 last April. This trend is also seen in other sports, in which prestigious teams have either disbanded or suspended their activities.

According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Olympic Committee of designated athletes in 2016, 45.9% of respondents said they were worried about finding a job. The situation may have worsened due to the pandemic.

The JOC matches companies with athletes seeking jobs. The Sport Basic Plan drawn up in 2012 by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry emphasizes the importance of dual careers and supporting athletes.

Para-sports

The same efforts must be made for athletes with disabilities, although their athletic careers are longer than those of able-bodied athletes.

Keiichi Sato, 42, who is scheduled to compete in the biathlon and other events at the Beijing Paralympic Games, has been working for Salesforce.com Co. since January last year, where he shows customers how to use the company’s system.

At his previous company, Sato got support to participate in competitions while working. But he switched to his current job at the U.S.-based information service company in the hope of acquiring IT skills.

“Thinking about my future, I wanted to have a focus on something other than sports,” he said.

Hosei University Associate Prof. Maki Ito, who is familiar with the careers of para-athletes, said: “Few athletes realize dual careers in sports for the disabled. It is desirable for the companies that employ them to provide support that helps them acquire skills and knowledge for their future.”