Business / Corporate

Japanese firms jumping on 2020 Paralympics bandwagon

Kyodo

As Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, an increasing number of Japanese companies are throwing their support behind athletes with disabilities.

From hiring athletes to developing clothing for them, a wide range of firms are getting involved.

Toyota Motor Corp., one of the top sponsors of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, recently became a supporter of Special Olympics Japan, which hosted an international athletic event for children and adults with learning disabilities in Niigata Prefecture in February.

Toyota not only provided financial support for the event but also solicited volunteers from among its workers to support it.

Shigeru Hayakawa, senior managing officer at Toyota, said promoting a more inclusive society could have a positive impact on the company’s workforce.

“The experience can be utilized in our core business of auto production,” he said.

Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co. founded a team of workers to support athletes with disabilities in 2014. The athletes address the company’s new hires as part of their corporate induction program and the newcomers are required to watch the sports people compete.

Meanwhile, Line Corp., the operator of the free messaging app LINE, hired three athletes with disabilities this year.

“We will support challengers amid growing trends toward increasing the employment of people with disabilities,” said Noritaka Ochiai, a Line Corp. executive officer.

One of the three athletes is Daisuke Fujihara, a 22-year-old player of para-badminton who graduated from the University of Tsukuba in March and will be allowed to concentrate on his sport for the next four years.

Para-badminton has various classes of play, including one using wheelchairs and another for players of short stature.

With the sport making its Paralympic debut in Tokyo in 2020, Fujihara has his eyes on the winners’ podium.

“I would have no chance of winning a medal without Line’s job offer,” he said.

In 2015, 20 companies employed a total of 34 athletes with disabilities, compared with six firms each hiring one in 2013 — the year Tokyo was named 2020 host — according to Tsunahiro World Co., an employment agent for such athletes.

Legal requirements that companies hire a set number of people with disabilities have helped increase job opportunities for disabled athletes, a Tsunahiro World official said.

But the employment situation remains tough for athletes with disabilities who are either not top-rankers or have passed their prime.

“The value of sports for athletes with disabilities should be raised as a whole,” Tsunahiro World President Kei Takeuchi said. “We should avoid disregard for the sports after the 2020 Paralympics.”

Calls are growing for companies to support athletes with disabilities on a long-term basis.

Some firms are stepping up efforts to develop products for athletes with disabilities.

Casual wear giant Uniqlo Co. has signed wheelchair tennis champion Shingo Kunieda to an endorsement deal and developed functional clothing for the sport, while sportswear maker Goldwin Inc. is working to upgrade the quality of garments for wheelchair rugby players and swimmers with disabilities in the 2020 Games.

Construction company Shimizu Corp. is developing an audio assist system for the visually impaired. The system involves a smartphone app that issues oral instructions to users who need to find their way around a building. Shimizu plans to put the system into use in 2018 and will seek its adoption at venues for the 2020 Paralympics.

NEC Corp., an official sponsor of the 2020 Games, has released a messaging app for people with hearing disabilities.

It can display on the screen messages such as “I am hearing-impaired,” or play them out loud.