Olympics

Japanese federations hoping to retain help of foreign coaches

Kyodo

Following the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, many of Japan's sports federations have been forced to negotiate contract extensions and make other concessions for foreign managers and coaches who were tasked with preparing Japanese athletes for the 2020 Games.

The majority are planning to remain in their positions, but there are a few cases where negotiations have hit a wall. Some coaches had already made plans for after this summer, when the Tokyo Olympics were originally slated to take place, while others required terms that hindered agreements.

Ulrik Kirkely of Denmark has been the Japanese women's handball team manager since 2016, and led the squad to a 10th-place finish at the world championships in Kumamoto last year. The result is the best Japan's women have achieved since the 1997 worlds, the first edition held with 24 teams.

But since Kirkely has a contract with a major European club starting in September, the Japan Handball Association is considering allowing him to hold both positions concurrently.

One foreign coach of an unnamed ball sport requested a "considerable" wage increase. According to an executive in the sport's federation, the coach was persuaded to keep the same terms as before after some tenacious negotiations.

The Japan Canoe Federation is seeking to retain three foreign coaches for the sprint event. The federation had planned to finalize its training programs and fix the number of coaches based on the results of Asian Olympic qualifying in March, but the tournament was postponed. Osahiro Haruzono, the vice president of the federation, said the decision has been put off since they "can't check the results."

In general, the Japan Sport Council grants a maximum of ¥14 million ($131,000) for contracts with managers and coaches, but that amount is insufficient for some coaches, and federations will sometimes create contracts on their own.

In 2016, the Japan Cycling Federation hired Benoit Vetu as its track head coach after the Frenchman attracted interest for his work with China, which won its first cycling gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

A Japanese national cycling team official said, "We've been paying him this much, and we'll continue to pay."

Vetu has indicated a desire to extend his contract and help Japan in its bid for its maiden Olympic track cycling gold.

"Foreign coaches are expensive," said an executive of a federation that employs multiple foreign coaches. "If we can't afford it, I'll even lower my salary to deal with it."

The high costs of retaining foreign coaches are all the more troubling for federations struggling to stay funded amid the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Hisanori Yajima, head of men's training at the Japan Volleyball Association, which handles its own contracts, said he was "worried about sponsorship income" that the association is having trouble securing without being able to hold competitions.

But while expensive, the coaches are nonetheless committed to helping Japan's athletes work through the health crisis and succeed on home soil at the Tokyo Games next summer.

Vladimir Shin, a boxing coach from Uzbekistan working with the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation, encouraged athletes online and told them that "everything has an end." One of his athletes, Sewon Okazawa, responded by saying he will continue to "trust my coach and work hard until the Olympics."

Hiroyoshi Kikuchi, a vice president of the boxing federation, said his organization wants Shin to stay on next year.

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