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The Potential of Sports as a Tool to Resolve Social Issues

Masatoshi Sekine
Associate Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Physical Education & Sports Management, Community Sports Theory

As we approach the beginning of mega sporting events

In September 2019, the Rugby World Cup will be held in twelve cities throughout Japan. This massive tournament comprises 15-player teams and is held every four years to decide the global leader in the sport. Its 2019 schedule extends between 20 September and 2 November. Over four billion people watched the matches of the previous tournament of 2015 on television. Additionally, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games will also be held in Japan in 2020. Thus, Japan will host a succession of mega sporting events with players from around the world. These events will be viewed by enormous numbers of people through mass media channels. In anticipation of these occurrences, the present paper will discuss potential challenges while examining the viewpoint of legacy as an essential aspect of discussions pertaining to mega sporting events in modern times. At the same time, the paper will moot the idea of considering sports to be a tool for the resolution of social issues.

Examining the meaning of hosting sports events through the legacy viewpoint

The above-mentioned mega sporting events are all large-scale international athletic events that are accomplished within a comparatively short span of time; for example, the Rugby World Cup lasts around seven weeks, while the Olympic and Paralympic Games are each scheduled for around two weeks. Despite their short duration, the hosting of these mega sporting events requires massive expenditure, as well as strong financial support from national and local governments. Accordingly, many people are skeptical about the value of holding mega sporting events from the viewpoint of the appropriate use of taxpayer money. The perspective of legacy is considered an important aspect of justifying the validity of hosting such events in the face of persistent criticism. The term "legacy" signifies that which is left behind or the value that is inherited in entirety. It thus indicates the long-term benefits that are bequeathed upon host cities of much anticipated global events. The legacy concept was officially adopted by the International Olympic Committee in the host city selection process for the 2012 Olympics and since then, candidate cities have been obligated to formulate a legacy plan. Consequently, nations and cities that offer their candidature as hosts explore the significance of hosting events as they plan their legacies or positive effects from a wide range of viewpoints that exceed the benefits of sports: for example, the social legacy of improved international stature for the hosting cities; the environmental legacy of ecologically-friendly urban structures; the community legacy of the improvement of transportation networks and the development of public goods and services; and the economic legacy resulting from the revitalization of tourism and increased employment opportunities.

Sports as a tool

The concept of legacy incorporates the idea that sports can be utilized as a tool to bring about positive outcomes that go beyond the mere enhancement of sporting activities. The promotion of health, the cultivation of a fit younger generation, the development of connections among local communities and people, social inclusion, and community development, can be cited as some of the positive results of sporting activities. People gain a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment by competing in sports activities. The experience of viewing of high-level sporting events creates a healthy feeling of tension and refreshment in spectators. Overall, people seek fun and enjoyment from sports. This type of entertainment and pleasure is a value that is unique and is intrinsic to sports and it should always be a point of focus in the promotion of sporting activities. Conversely, the idea of utilizing sports as a tool accomplishing a goal that surpasses the intrinsic rewards of fun and enjoyment. Dictionaries often define the term "sport" as unproductive play that is inessential for the sustenance of life and that brings no economic benefit. However, some sporting occasions evince a reality that differs from these definitions. The notion of "sports" alludes to physical activities that are accompanied by varied emotions and that create their own cultural spaces. As such, sports activities are loved by countless people and are expected to own the potential to positively affect the daily life of communities and peoples in a variety of ways. Sports activities connect people, foster deep emotional bonds, and attract the combined attention of large numbers of individuals and groups.

Sports policies seeking economic and regional revitalization through sports

Like the idea of the legacy created by mega sporting events, the current sports policy of the Japanese government also positions sports as a tool and as an approach to the resolution of social issues. The Japan Sports Agency was established in 2015 as an extra-ministerial bureau of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Since its inception, the agency has collaborated with sports policies implemented by other ministries and agencies. As a result, sports policies in Japan have accelerated trends that exceed the framework of conventional educational administration, and that demand political outcomes from broad viewpoints such as the economy, health, local community, and international relations. In such circumstances, the MEXT announced its Second Sport Basic Plan in March 2017. Its slogan, Changing Society Through Sports, declared its intentions to institute efforts to resolve social issues through the effective utilization of the appeal of sports. Also, the plan designated economic and regional revitalization through sports as a policy area that requires work. Further, the plan promotes the reform of stadiums and arenas and emphasizes the cultivation of human resources in sports management to transform sports into a growth industry. Other initiatives of the plan include sports tourism for regional revitalization and efforts to attract Olympic training camps.

The potential utilization of sports: Future points of debate

As discussed, the notion of sports as a tool to be utilized to deal with social issues has grown dramatically through movements to construct legacies that go beyond sporting and through initiatives taken by the Japan Sports Agency to institute innovative policies that promise political, social, cultural, and economic rewards to accrue from sports and sporting events. Such enterprising ideas for regional revitalization through sports have taken root throughout Japan. As these schemes continue to expand, potential challenges must also be acknowledged if the full capacity of sports as a tool is to be tapped. To what extent can the number of people who will sincerely engage in socially oriented efforts be increased? To what extent can initiatives be constructed to produce specific results? The author of this paper continues to expend individual effort in conducting fieldwork in the city of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. Through world-class bicycle road race competitions, Utsunomiya is working on the issue of urban development to increase the use of bicycles by its inhabitants. In addition to local government, professional sports teams competing in bicycle road races have become pivotal to these. The teams undertake activities to increase the value of bicycling as both a sport and a vehicle of transportation. At the same time, they cooperate and collaborate with local governments and sometimes also guide the regional administrations. The members of these professional sports teams are people who can empathize with sporting themes. The extent to which we can increase the number of such people is important to further increase the efficacy of measures for resolving social issues through sports. We need to invigorate socially-oriented activities by these people. At the same time, practical research projects must also be conducted to contribute to community development through sports.

Masatoshi Sekine
Associate Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Physical Education & Sports Management, Community Sports Theory
Masatoshi Sekine was born in 1984 in Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture.
He graduated from Chuo University Suginami High School, and from Chuo University’s Faculty of Policy Studies. He completed his master’s degree studies in the Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences program of the University of Tsukuba.
Before assuming his current position in April 2019, he served as a teaching assistant at the Kanagawa University Faculty of Human Sciences and as an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Business Management, Sakushin Gakuin University. At the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce, he has taken charge of the Sports Business Program.
His areas of specialization include physical education & sports management and community sports theory. His current research themes are sustainable lifestyles in regional communities and the creation of infrastructure to support sports.