Tokyo Games build bonds between host towns, foreign athletes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
South Sudanese athletes receive gifts from local high school students after a pep rally for the Tokyo Olympics in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, on July 16.

Municipalities that served as host towns for the Olympics and Paralympics are continuing exchanges with foreign athletes, with some cities planning to host athletes during their preparations for the 2024 Paris Olympics and others considering becoming sister cities.

Maebashi plans to host athletes from South Sudan, whose training facilities are less developed. One South Sudanese athlete will train in the city every six months ahead of the Paris Games.

Training camps for five South Sudanese athletes before the Tokyo Olympics continued for nearly two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. The athletes’ accommodations and food expenses were financed by a hometown tax contribution system, which raised over ¥30 million to cover the costs.

Residents who are former track and field athletes trained the South Sudanese athletes, who also spoke about South Sudan at high schools and participated in local sports events, deepening ties during their stay.

The athletes were happy to be invited back to Maebashi, with one saying, “It will help us discover the next generation [of athletes] and give us courage.”

An international relations coordinator from Jordan will be assigned from October to Noshiro, Akita Prefecture, which was a Tokyo 2020 host town.

The city arranged visits by Jordanian athletes and held online film screenings, but the pre-Games training camp was canceled due to the pandemic. An online link was established with the Jordanian Embassy during the Games and about 50 residents cheered on Jordanian athletes.

Noshiro is considering exchanges in the fields of wind power generation and agriculture in the future.

Ota in Gunma Prefecture has been invited to establish a sister city link with Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi in southeastern Africa. Ota has sent fire trucks and ambulances to Lilongwe and hosted a training camp for eight members of the Malawian team before the Tokyo Games.

Ulemu Msungama, minister of youth and sports, visited the city during the Games and expressed gratitude to the city for welcoming the Malawian athletes under difficult circumstances. He also proposed becoming sister cities.

“We want to continue to help each other and have a long relationship,” said Ota Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu.

Some athletes visited host cities after finishing their competitions.

In August, two Costa Rican track and field athletes met with about 30 elementary and junior high school students in Matsukawa, Nagano Prefecture.

“I believe sports transcends national borders and energizes everyone,” said Andrea Vargas, who trained with the children and spoke to them about her athletic career.

The town is planning to hold an online exchange event in October.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Andrea Vargas demonstrates how to run hurdles in Matsukawa, Nagano Prefecture, on Aug. 4.