Nadeshiko Japan, which became the first Japanese as well as the first Asian team to become the World Cup winner, irrespective of men’s or women’s soccer, will get another laurel. The team, which was victorious over the heavily favored United States in Frankfurt on July 17, will receive the prestigious People’s Honor Award from Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Aug. 18.
The team will be the first organization as well as the first sports team to receive the award, which was institutionalized in 1977.
So far, 18 individuals have received the award, including home-run king Sadaharu Oh; Ms. Naoko Takahashi, gold medalist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics women’s marathon; Japanese diva Hibari Misora; and actor Hisaya Morishige. Ms. Misora and Mr. Morishige received the award posthumously.
In view of Nadeshiko Japan’s feat, the government’s decision to give the award to it is timely and appropriate.
Mr. Yasuhiro Yamashita, gold medalist in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics judo who received the PHA that year, summed up the significance of Nadeshiko Japan’s achievements: “I was greatly moved (by the team’s skill and teamwork), my spirits were lifted and encouraged. The team has exerted a great influence on Japanese people as the nation has been steeped in a gloomy mood since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.”
Mr. Norio Sasaki, the team’s coach, said, “I believe that the team fought together with the people of Japan and this has brought us the award.”
The award will give a boost to women’s soccer in Japan, whose foundation is not very strong. After Japan’s women’s team failed to make the 2000 Sydney Olympics, women’s soccer fell into a difficult period. Many players on club teams have had to support themselves by taking part-time jobs.
The Japan Football Association plans to increase the number of women soccer players to 300,000 by 2015. But in fiscal 2010, only about 37,000 women were registered. Education minister Yoshiaki Takaki said that his ministry will develop concrete steps to promote women’s soccer.
The most important thing would be to nurture soccer players among junior and senior high school female students. More soccer fields should be built to attract girls to the sport.