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J. League second division club Shonan Bellmare is making a unique challenge to transform itself into a multi-sports organization.

Shonan has decided to establish a separate, non-profit sporting organization that will focus on triathlon, beach volleyball and soccer for under-15 players.

Following the launch of its own beach volleyball team last year, Bellmare added a triathlon team earlier this month.

The Kanagawa Prefecture-based club is expected to get a green light for its new sports organization from the prefectural office some time in April, assuming all the paper work clears.

“We’d like to use this to draw more support from the local people and establish more of a strong foundation in the local community,” Bellmare press officer Sachie Endo said.

Bellmare’s challenge comes after a bitter experience with the club’s former sponsor. Fujita suddenly withdrew from the club in 1998 after the construction company experienced financial difficulties. Bellmare managed to survive, but basically had to start all over again as a club. Since then, the club has been searching for a way to survive without relying on a single sponsor.

The withdrawal of the club’s sponsor made many of its younger players worry about their future.

Because of that experience, Endo explained, Shonan decided to place its under-15 soccer team within the NPO sports club, keeping it separate from the pro organization and any financial difficulties it might have.

Shonan’s selection of beach volleyball and triathlon as sports to develop came about because of the nature of the area, which is surrounded by the sea and mountains and has a number of cycling courses.

These teams are hoping to make it to the 2004 Olympics in Athens. They will be able to share training facilities and training know-how to improve their performance.

The beach volleyball team of Katsuhiro Shiratori and Satoshi Watanabe rose to 13th on the world tour last season. The triathlon team features up-and-coming Ryosuke Yamamoto and Misuzu Asanuma, along with Japan’s Sydney Olympic team physical coach Yasuhiro Nakajima and Japan’s top triathlete Shingo Tani as adviser.

Most sports and teams in Japan exist in isolation, having little contact with other sports clubs. It is a rarity to see a sporting organization feature more than two different sports.

The club may be pointing the way for Japanese sports organizations to survive in these times of financial difficulties.

The J. League has always aimed to develop the concept of the community-based sports club, but it has proved hard for officials of J. League clubs to look beyond the soccer teams.

So why does Shonan Bellmare believe it can succeed?

“We are all very excited about this,” a clearly enthusiastic Endo noted. “The club, which doesn’t have a major sponsor, needs to do something to create an enjoyable environment in the area with not only soccer but other sports too.

“That’s the way for us to survive here in our community. If all goes well, we should be able to take on more sports. This is the first step along that path.”

Endo’s voice down the telephone line sounded so cheerful and enthusiastic. It would be a shame if such enthusiasm wasn’t rewarded.

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