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English proficiency to be required for Japan fencers

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Japan Fencing Federation president Yuki Ota has been known as an innovator in the sport since taking over his leadership post in 2017.

But he has recently hammered out another unprecedented, astounding initiative.

On Thursday, the national governing body announced that an English proficiency exam will be a requirement for fencers to make national teams starting in 2021.

The program that the federation will use is called GTEC (Global Test of English Communication), which focuses more on practical English ability and consists of reading, listening, writing and speaking. It has widely been used as university entrance exams.

The federation will impose its national team-class athletes to score a level of “A2,” which is a basic step, on the GTEC test. The national team-level fencers were notified about the new requirement last year. Although details regarding how the fencers will take lessons were not revealed, they could take them online. The fencers will earn their own scores by taking exams once a year during the spring.

GTEC was created by Benesse Corporation in 1999 and a total of 1.25 million junior and high school students took the exams in the 2018 fiscal year.

Ota said at a Tokyo news conference that this educational overhaul was one of his major objectives since he took over as JFF president in August 2017.

The 33-year-old insisted that the English-language proficiency would be an asset for fencers in terms of communication with non-Japanese coaches and with athletes from other countries. He also stressed that it is critical to be able to have conversations with referees at meets.

“For sports that have decisions (like fencing), it’s extremely important for you to be able to communicate with referees,” said Ota, who won silver medals in the individual foil and team competitions at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, respectively. “I was weighing in communicating with them when I was competing.”

But that was not the only reason why the federation has initiated the project. Ota said that the decision was made “from a medium- and long-term perspective” for the sport, considering its athletes’ post-athletic careers.

“Federations have not taken care of their athletes after their retirement,” Ota said of Japanese sports in general. “But with the status quo, people and their parents would not choose which sports they want to be in. So while we would like our athletes to work as hard as they can during their athletic careers, we would also like them to be ones that will be global talent being able to work anywhere. We would like them to feel it’s worth selecting fencing.”

Ota also said that a lack of presence on the international sports administrative scene is one of the biggest issues for Japanese sports and believes that it is partially coming from an inability of many to communicate in English.

“In order for fencing to be a role model for Japanese sports, we’ll aim at producing people that will be hired at important posts at global (sports) institutions,” the Shiga Prefecture native said.

While revealing his federation’s new motto (“Athlete Future First”), Ota said that many sporting organizations in Japan have promoted the slogan lately, but the JFF came up with the new phrase to show that it is aware of its athletes’ post-competition careers.

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