The women’s soccer team has won more than a first place victory in the Women’s World Cup. They have also won increased financial support for women athletes in Japan. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry (MEXT) announced recently it would be increasing financial support for women’s sports.

This second victory makes the first one all the sweeter.

MEXT plans on doubling the amount earmarked for women’s sports by fiscal 2012. Japanese women athletes have certainly earned it.

In addition to the wonderful soccer victory, five of the nine gold medals Japan won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics went to women. The government’s behind-the-curve response was to suggest doubling funding for programs that nurture women athletes. That support should be enacted without question.

Women’s athletics needs support for more reasons than just creating superstar teams.

According to last year’s national physical fitness test, more than 30 percent of girls in the second year of middle school said they spent less than 60 minutes a week on sports. By contrast, the figure was 9 percent for boys.

Increased support for women’s sports will help turn a small percentage of girls who spend more time on sports into a much larger one. If more gold medals and championships result, all the better, but the real issue is early education.

Support for women still lags behind that for men. A new basic law on the promotion of sports and physical activity will go into force Wednesday to help encourage sports in Japan in general.

That new law, unfortunately, is directed in part toward facilitating bids for the Olympics and other international sports events. A better direction would be toward increasing sports clubs at the local level and earmarking funding that supports women in particular.

The benefits of more and better support for those who need it most are numerous. Participation in sports helps improve people’s health, which in turn reduces spending on medical care.

Encouraging active leisure time through sports also helps to relieve stress and improve mental health. If young women need extra encouragement to participate in sports, then it should be offered. The benefits spread through society.

The Japanese women’s soccer team has done more than bring honor to a country still grieving from the Tohoku disasters. It has helped to redefine an agenda for the future — more women in sports.

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