Japan’s athlete hiring program finding more success as 2020 Olympics approach


An program launched by the Japanese Olympic Committee to encourage companies to hire top athletes — providing them with a stable income while allowing them to continue their training and competing — is paying off.

Its success in placing athletes in jobs has risen since Tokyo was picked to host the 2020 Olympics, as companies are drawn to the buzz the games are creating.

The program started in 2010. As of mid-January, 92 athletes, including some with physical disabilities, had been hired by 65 companies and organizations, according to the JOC.

In 2011 and 2012 only five athletes were hired through the program. But after Tokyo was chosen in 2013 to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the number increased to 19 in 2014 and to 35 in 2015.

“A large number of companies want to be involved in the Olympics in one way or another,” Shigeru Hatta, director the JOC’s Career Academy.

The program is aimed at building a “win-win relationship” between athletes and companies, the JOC said. It is especially helpful for athletes from sports that are not in the mainstream who often have to train while working part time.

The program generally results in athletes getting hired on packages worth about ¥5 million a year, a sum that includes their travel and other expenses.

Companies cooperate with the program in part because of the prestige it brings. They also hope their involvement in the program will fire up other employees.

Cargo transportation and warehouse operator Yusen Logistics Co. plans to employ Ayatsugu Hirai, a swimmer who won a gold medal in the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle at the Summer Universiade 2015 last July.

“His pursuit of becoming the top swimmer in the world matches our goals,” an official at the company said. The presence of Hirai is expected to “enhance a sense of unity” among employees, the official added.

“It’s a happy memory that I could participate in the 2012 London Olympics thanks to the program and was cheered on by all the employees of the company,” said Kentaro Asahi, a beach volleyball player who was hired by IT company Forval Corp. through the JOC program in 2011.

There are a number of problems to address in the program, JOC officials said. For example, the chances of employment are smaller for winter sports competitors than summer sports athletes, while the JOC also needs to remain alert to keeping athletes from becoming out of place at their workplaces.

But Hatta believes the problems can be dealt with. “As people rarely meet Olympic athletes, the program helps them feel closer to the Olympics,” he said.

“We’ve learned what to do with the program in stages over the past five years and believe it can help create infrastructure for company-backed sports.”