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Global Sporting Arms Race

Yoshiyuki Mano
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

At the London Olympic Games, the phenomenon of countries pouring huge amounts of their national budget into elite sports in order to vie for medals has been likened to the arms race between the superpowers and is being called the Global Sporting Arms Race.

In the research consortium for international competiveness policies, "Sport Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success"(SPLISS), consisting of sports policy researchers from 15 nations, it was found that there is no causal relationship between the number of medals won and macro level factors such as GDP and population, but differences in meso-level sport policies influence the number of medals won.

So then, what kind of sports policy has an effect on the number of medals? SPLISS says it is the nine areas of financial support, organisation and structure of sport policies, foundation & participation, talent identification system and talent development, athletic career support and post career, training facilities, coaching provision & coach development, international competitions and scientific research. By comparing these by country, relative evaluations of strengths and weaknesses for each country can be made. It appears that Japan has a problem with "athletic career support and post career." Every country has common problems in regards to building a career after retirement, but in powerhouse countries, South Korea has a pension scheme, and Great Britain and France offer dual-career support. Even in Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has established a "graduate school program for elite athletes" and started "base club development" aimed at regional sports guidance, for athletes after they retire.

Furthermore, survey results show that a high proportion feel there is a problem in relations between "scientific research" and the sporting arena. World sporting powers have been developing national strengthening policies based on sports science since the 1970s. Specifically, they have built national training centers and Olympic centers as "training facilities", and provided elite athletes with general and intensive programs such as medical checks, fitness tests and evaluations, motion analyses, mental training and nutritional balance.

Although falling behind the leading countries, Japan built the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences (JISS) in 2001 (Kita Ward, Tokyo), and, based on medical science, physiology, psychology, and biomechanics, has developed the "Total Sports Clinic" that gives general diagnoses and evaluations of athletes. Hypoxic chambers and hypoxic training rooms modeled on high altitude training have been installed at JISS, and it is believed that this played more than a small part in the 16 gold medals captured at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Also, in 2007, the National Training Center (NTC) was built adjacent to JISS and is used as a base for Japan team training camps. Until then there had been no exclusive training camp facilities, even for Japan representatives, and teams had to hop around public facilities. Thanks to the NTC, it is now possible to hold systematic training camps year round.

On top of this, in 2010 MEXT started up the Team "Japan" Multi-support Project, and with an aim for the Olympics, selected sports with high potential of winning medals (target sports) to receive comprehensive support. There are 19 sports covering 24 disciplines in all (*Table 1). In this multi-support, research and development of equipment and supplies to suit each individual athlete in the chosen sports, and development of torso training equipment, said to be a weak point of Japanese, takes place, as well as responding to requests by managers and coaches such as video analysis of competition and fitness tests of the athletes.

Team Japan Multi-support Project Comprehensive Support Sports(19 sports 24 disciplines)
Summer athletics, swimming (competitive swimming, synchronized swimming), gymnastics (gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline), wrestling, sailing, cycling, fencing, judo, canoeing, triathlon, table tennis, target shooting (rifle), soccer, volleyball, tennis, archery, badminton
Winter ice skating (speed skating, figure skating), alpine skiing (ski jumping, Nordic combined)
Table 1

Among other things, after a trial at the Guangzhou Asian Games, what you will see for the first time at the London Olympics is "Multi-support House", a support base outside of the athlete's village. This house will be set up at a site close to Olympic venues and a 10 minute walk from the athlete's village. Japanese athletes and coaches are free to visit the house and can receive services such as recovery meals, high pressure capsules, contrast bath pools, massages, muscle training, and psychology counseling. The house is connected with JISS and information networks and, if requested, athletes can receive video analyses of their matches or information on their opponents. In other words, athletes can select and utilize medical, science and information support similar to what they received at JISS and NTC while at the Olympic venues in order to prepare immediately before competition. America introduced this type of support base outside of the athlete's village at the Sydney Olympics, and are currently in use by countries such as Australia, Great Britain, and Singapore.

In order to win through in this kind of global arms race, each country puts their national pride on the line in unfolding competition policies.

Yoshiyuki Mano
Professor, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Yokohama City in 1963. Completed his master's course at the Graduate School of Education in the University of Tokyo in 1991. Ph.D. After working at the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc., he spent time as Associate Professor in the School of Human Sciences and the School of Sport Sciences in Waseda University from 2002. He has been the Professor of the Faculty of Sport Sciences since 2009. He serves as an executive and adviser for a great number of sports organizations: Representative Director of the Japan Athlete Forum, Director of the Japan Volleyball League Organization and Director of the Japan Basketball League, among others. He is the author of Management of Public Sports Facilities and the co-author of The Economics of Sports.