A group of nearly two dozen Diet members launched a basketball-supporting parliamentarians’ association and held its kickoff meeting on Tuesday at the members’ office buildings of the House of Councilors in Tokyo’s Nagatacho district.
The members include some influential politicians, such as Taro Aso, a former prime minister and ex-Japan Basketball Association president, and Hiroshi Hase, a former Olympic wrestler and the current Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Takeo Kawamura, a former chief cabinet secretary, is the hoop alliance’s president and Toshiaki Endo, the Olympics minister, is the deputy president. Aso, who currently serves as the finance minister, is the honorary president.
This year, Japanese basketball faced a major crisis when FIBA suspended the JBA, banning it from any international events. The ban was lifted with the support of ex-J. League chairman Saburo Kawabuchi, who’s the current JBA president, and the Tokyo 2024 Task Force during the summer.
The parliamentarians’ association was established to give assistance in the post-crisis basketball era in Japan, and Japan’s teams are now expected to make an upward leap toward the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year and in Tokyo in 2020. The politicians’ group is also expected to give a hand to the B. League, a new three-division, men’s professional top circuit, which tips off next fall with 45 clubs (who are currently competing in the NBL, bj-league and NBDL) across the nation.
“We’ll have the new professional league next year and we expect that it will bring more fans and generate more power for the citizens, from the adults to the children,” Kawamura said at the kickoff meeting. “We, the parliamentarians’ league, hope to help promote the sport and develop its competitiveness, and ultimately contribute to the health of Japanese citizens.”
A total of 23 Diet members started up the association and about 80 are currently registered as a part of it. According to a JBA official, that number could increase later.
During the kickoff meeting, Kawabuchi, B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa, Ryukyu Golden Kings president Tatsuro Kimura and Chiba Jets chief executive Shinji Shimada made speeches for the new association’s members, introducing them to the history and curent status of their teams.
Some other key figures in Japanese basketball, including men’s national team head coach Kenji Hasegawa, women’s national team bench boss Tomohide Utsumi and Team Japan players Yuta Tabuse and Ramu Tokashiki also attended it, while Daichi Suzuki, the head of the Japan Sports Agency, was invited.
Kawabuchi stated that he really appreciated the launch of the support group on behalf of Japanese basketball. But he added that the JBA, clubs and players must continue to take the initiative to make efforts to promote the game, not relying too much on the power of the politicians.
Meanwhile, the politicians could assist B. League officials when they petition their respective local governments to build new arenas or renovate current ones, which will be one of the keys for the B. League’s success.
Kawabuchi also insisted that he was disappointed that the plan to build a new basketball arena for the Tokyo Olympics had been scrapped, adding that Japan needs a national symbolic arena for the sport. (The JOC has switched the venue to Saitama Super Arena.)
Kawabuchi added that the B. League needs to have success in order to make it happen.
“When you look at the NBA, they have arenas that can have 15,000 to 20,000 and there are 30 of those teams,” Kawabuchi said. “But none of the Japanese teams has it. Our mission is to grow fans that hope to come to the arenas as much as possible going forward. I believe that there’s a possibility.”
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