Nippon Foundation invests in high school, university Paralympic athletes

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo will not only be a significant event for Olympic-caliber athletes in Japan, but it will also provide an opportunity to motivate Paralympic sport athletes.

But often financial situations prevent disabled people from participating in sports and trying to become elite-level athletes.

The Nippon Foundation established a scholarship program for promising Paralympic athletes at Nippon Sport Science University, Japan’s top institute for physical education, and its affiliated high schools across the nation in 2016.

It has recently added eight collegians and high school athletes and held a conferment ceremony at NSSU on Tuesday.

The athletes of the new class include five NSSU and three high school student-athletes in different sports as table tennis, soccer, ice hockey and swimming.

The Nippon Foundation, a private, non-profit grant-making organization, has invested ¥1 billion for the program and a total of 19 individuals were selected as scholarship members for the 2017 fiscal year. The first group includes Sae Tsuji, the bronze medalist in the women’s 4000- meter run (T47 class) at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.

Each scholarship student-athlete receives up to ¥5 million a year for four years. The money can be used as compensation for necessary expenses, including school activities, student fees, residential fees, travel and equipment costs.

Eventually, the foundation will looks to expand the group of scholarship athletes to 50.

Yohei Sasagawa, the foundation chairman, insisted that it wanted to help improve the circumstances in Paralympic sports because they are “vulnerable” and the “athlete depth” is still too small in this country.

Yoshinobu Takamatsu, one of the eight scholarship athletes who is a men’s under-23 wheelchair basketball player, competed in baseball until he lost his left leg due to osteosarcoma when he was in his final year in junior high school. He has played wheelchair basketball since he was a high school freshman.

Takamatsu, now a freshman at NSSU, is pleased to be in the scholarship program because the financial cost to compete in basketball may be a burden. He said that it costs about ¥400,000 to buy a wheelchair for the sport and repair because players bump their wheelchairs into opponents all the time.

“So I won’t have to worry about the money any more, which is very big,” said the 18-year-old, who enrolled at NSSU this year.

Makoto Takahashi, a second-year student at Nippon Sport Science University Ohka High School who plays softball with able-bodied athletes at the school, said that it “came out of the blue” that she was selected for the program.

The program also hopes those athletes eventually become coaches to help cultivate the younger generation, obtaining proper teaching licenses, too.

The Nippon Foundation has been eager to support Paralympic sports and their athletes. It formed the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center in 2015 to promote the 2020 Paralympics and Paralympic movement.