All Blacks legend Richie McCaw kicked off a four-day charity tour of Japan on Friday and vowed to bring a smile to the faces of children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
“Rugby throughout the world has a set of values no matter where you play,” said McCaw, who made a world-record 148 international test-match appearances for New Zealand — 110 of them as captain — and lifted the World Cup twice before retiring in 2015.
“It’s a similar ethos and culture — it’s about playing as a team. I think it’s a way of showing kids that working together and being strong and putting your mind to a goal means you can achieve anything. That’s the way I think sport in general, but certainly rugby, can have a major influence on children’s lives.”
McCaw is in Japan on behalf of Support Our Kids, a charity established in the wake of the 2011 disaster to help children living in the affected areas.
McCaw will travel to Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, to hold an event on Saturday with schoolchildren at the site where Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium is being built to stage matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The 36-year-old will then host a charity rugby clinic and talk show event elsewhere in Iwate Prefecture, before giving children’s rugby clinics in Tokyo and Yokohama on Sunday and talk shows on Monday.
“At the events, we want to see children with a smile on their face,” said McCaw. “Where they can see there’s hope from what they’ve had to go through. I guess my role is that I want to share my experiences in a rugby sense and an All Black sense. We used leadership, we used our strength to overcome the difficulties that we faced.”
McCaw’s hometown of Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake on Feb. 22, 2011, less than a month before a magnitude 9.0 temblor struck off Japan’s northeast coast.
“We saw what happened in Japan in 2011 and I guess we felt a little bit of the same pain from the disaster,” said McCaw. “Watching on TV and going to see what it’s like six years on is what I’m really interested in seeing, because I know Christchurch is still a way away from being back to the way it was.
“In New Zealand, the earthquake wasn’t quite as bad as what Japan experienced but you could see the effect of the disaster on everyone, especially the kids. When I heard about the Support Our Kids project and how it was put together to help these kids become independent and overcome their difficulties, I thought it was a great thing to come and be involved.”
Support Our Kids was formed with the aim of encouraging children in the disaster-affected areas to take a lead role in reconstruction efforts. The charity, which has the cooperation of 11 countries’ embassies, provides overseas home-stay programs for junior and high school students and will continue until 2020.
“I’ve been lucky enough through rugby to travel to different parts of the world and experience different cultures and learn different things,” said McCaw, who is following in the footsteps of former All Blacks teammate Dan Carter and baseball legend Derek Jeter in teaming up with the charity.
“It will be great for kids to have this opportunity. In New Zealand we’ve been hosting children from the Support Our Kids program since it started, and I know that this year there are kids lined up to come to Auckland and Christchurch.”
Japan rugby international Kosei Ono, who was born in Nagoya but moved to New Zealand at the age of 3 and attended the same Christchurch high school as Carter, believes McCaw is the perfect ambassador for the charity.
“If you had to describe Richie in one word, it would be ‘legend,’ ” said fly half Ono, who was the top point-scorer in last season’s domestic Top League with champion team Suntory Sungoliath.
“He’s a rugby legend, and I think he’ll still be talked about in 100 or 200 years’ time. I’m looking forward to seeing him meet the kids and give them courage and make them smile and show them what a good game rugby is.”