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[SFS Journal Smile Leaders]

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Kayoko Hosokawa

Sport to Let Everyone’s Soul Shine~Kayoko Hosokawa (Honorary Chairperson, NPO Special Olympics Nippon/ Chairperson, Japan Floor Hockey Federation)

Speaking of “Olympics,” you may think of Olympic Games for world-class athletes that create national enthusiasm and involve a huge amount of money. Then how many of you know about “Special Olympics”?

Special Olympics (SO) is an international organization that aims to provide people with intellectual disabilities with sports opportunities to lead self-independent lives and to realize social inclusion, and it regularly operates sports programs and competitions.* Based in Washington DC, SO has more than 170 member countries/territories world-wide.

It started in 1962 when Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, a younger sister of the late President J. F. Kennedy, opened her family’s yard for kids with intellectual disabilities to play sports, and it is an organization that was approved by the IOC, International Olympic Committee, to use the word of “Olympic” as part of the official name.

It was last summer at an international conference in London when I first heard of SO. Tim Shriver, a son of the founder, was present at one of the panels to talk about the activities of SO. As soon as I returned to Tokyo I did some research on SO and found that Special Olympics Nippon (SON –“Nippon” means Japan) had already been developed nation-wide. In addition, Japan had hosted its Winter World Games in Nagano in 2005. Since the time I discovered that it was Mrs. Hosokawa who established SON, I had hoped to talk with her. Being inspired by her book and being moved to cry at her sessions, I found my values are close to hers, and I found talking with her so interesting and fun that I felt I wanted to talk with her longer.

Mrs. Hosokawa encountered SO in 1991 when she lived in Kumamoto, Kyushu, in the Southern part of Japan. In reading a local newspaper she by accident found an article about the 8th Special Olympics Summer Games that were held in Minnesota. It said that a Japanese girl won a medal. But as she read the article she found something – that at the Special Olympics Games the medals will be given to Athletes** who made maximum efforts to take challenges, not to those who made the best performances. Special Olympics applies a “Divisioning” system through which athletes can be grouped with those who are of the same levels for the final competitions. Under this system all the participants can advance to the finals, and each division awards medals for the 1st to the 3rd place winners as well as differently-colored ribbons for the rest. Mrs. Hosokawa was extremely moved by this vision of SO that values surpassing oneself of yesterday rather than surpassing others and that gives chances and rewards to all the participants, that she on the spot started her activity for Special Olympics with the coach of the medal winner Tomoko, Ms. Nakamura.

The most inspiring thoughts relating to the fateful encounter of Mrs. Hosokawa to SO were the words by a preacher that moved Mrs. Hosokawa as well when she heard them from Coach Nakamura: “No matter how technology has developed, at least 2 per cent of babies will be born with intellectual disabilities. They are a present from the God, to teach human beings the importance of kindness and consideration.***

Then, the preacher continued: people with intellectual disabilities will be born in nature with excellent capabilities and possibilities. They only lack skills to express and perform them in an appropriate way. If the people around him or her treat him/her as a poor and incapable child and let him/her do anything only to protect or even hide him/her, the child will end his/her lonely and miserable life without developing his/her talent, while he/she can show his/her amazing ability only with even tiny support.

Mrs. Hosokawa, who felt it should be her mission to promote SO across Japan, visited Salzburg with two Athletes and three Athletes where the Special Olympics Winter Games were held. She was so much inspired again there to see the Athletes really enjoy the games and to experience the cordial hospitality afforded. Soon after this she started her nation-wide tour as a pack-tripper to launch the Japanese entity of Special Olympics, which had been virtually inactive at that time, to spread the vision of Special Olympics that provides daily training opportunities and competitions in various scales as well as to promote volunteer participation. It cannot be imagined how difficult it was to obtain financial or other forms of support from corporations when the concept of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) was not yet common. Some might misunderstand that Mrs. Hosokawa had privilege to promote her activities as the wife of then Prime Minister, but the truth is the opposite; she had to make tremendous efforts to make sure that people did not think so and to separate her activities from her husband’s.

On November 27th, 1994, Special Olympics Nippon (SON) was properly founded, and since 1995 the SON has sent Japanese delegations to each Special Olympics World Games. And being advised by Timothy Shriver that Japan can raise awareness so much in the country by hosting the Special Olympics World Games and that it should, finally in 2005, Nagano hosted the World Winter Games. While the legacy of the 1998 Nagano Olympics Games and the volunteerism that took root after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake contributed to the success of this event, it would not have been realized without the efforts by Mrs. Hosokawa and other leaders who conducted the “Torch Relay by 5 million people” and who tirelessly talked with governments and local administrators to convince them of the value of the event. Especially for the “Torch Run by 5 million people”, which was unique to the Nagano event, it was held nationwide, before the official SO torch relay arrives from Greece as it does for the Olympic Games, to involve more than 8,500 people with intellectual disabilities and 120,000 volunteers to successfully raise funds and awareness at the same time. For the main games, about 2,000 athletes participated from more than 80 countries, and it demonstrated a great success as well. I regret that I was not in Japan at that time due to study abroad and was not able to share this special moment. Everyone who missed it as I did, should be encouraged to watch the amazing movie “Believe.”

At the closing ceremony of the successful Nagano Games, Mrs. Hosokawa made a speech saying;

“This is not the goal. This is a start!”

Which meant that it takes another decade to see the real result of the Nagano Games, and the goal of the event is to realize a convivial society that consists of local communities where all the people with or without disabilities can enjoy their own lives. From Mrs. Hosokawa’s experience, 90 per cent of Japanese people are innocent of the intellectually challenged. In fact, research by the Cabinet Office shows that only eighteen per cent of Japanese think “Disabled people have the access to and participate in Japanese society” while as much as 82 per cent of German people think the same way for their country. Even after accomplishing such great achievements, Mrs. Hosokawa always finds her next mission: “Through the activities with SO, I realized that in Japanese society many of people with intellectual disabilities are isolated. I have to change this situation!”

This motivated her to found an NPO called “Yuuki no Tsubasa (Wings of Courage) Inclusion 2015” which aims to realize an “inclusive society” by 2015 where people with intellectual disabilities can enjoy their lives without too many worries.

Indeed her sense and courage to take right actions are inspirational, mentioning “Inclusion” – the word that had not been heard of in Japan –with so much passion. In addition to her forward-thinking vision, the overwhelming achievement was her courageous action. Responding to a question regarding what is the power of sport which she felt through her SO activities, she answered:

“I think sports has the power to let everyone’s soul shine”

Mrs. Hosokawa’s words with real experience were enough to call to mind the smiles of many Athletes. Actually she said she could not express that in any words, and it may be partly because she had met too many Athletes to cite each and had so many inspirational memories. She continued: “It is easy to say “sanctity of life” but through SO I learned that every single person has amazing capabilities and possibilities. It is egoistic for people to say that people with intellectual disabilities will be incapable of playing sports. Sports is the greatest tool to let everyone’s life shine. All the people should be given the access to the sports.” – So inspirational.

One of the most admirable things about Mrs. Hosokawa is that her standard to take action or not always depends on her sense of mission: whether it is needed in the society or she should do it, not on whether she can do it or it is hard to achieve. I assume this sense of mission enabled her to feel the power of sport stronger to let everyone’s soul shine.

The sport that Mrs. Hosokawa currently looks at is floor hockey, which is one of the official SO Winter Games sports and one of its popular ones. It is the sport played by moving a “pack,” a soft and round felt-made object with a hole in the middle, toward the goal with a “stick.” It is regarded as a universal sport because men and women as well as people with and without disability can all play together. It was Mrs. Hosokawa who founded the Japan Floor Hockey Federation in Nagano and has contributed to spreading the movement, as well as to organize competitions. In September this year, the 6th national tournament will be held in Yamagata.

The birth of the Japan Floor Hockey Federation (JFHF) is epoch-making in that it has spread out to involve people without disabilities while it had been traditionally a part of the SO sports that can be played only by the intellectually challenged. Special Olympics’ various programmes include “Unified Sports®”, in which Athletes and Partners (without disability) play together. In Unified Sports, teams are consist of Athletes and Partners, whose ages and competition levels are of the same level, and they practice and participate in official competition. This valuable programme for people with and without disabilities, however, in not so common in Japan unfortunately, and there have not been so many games organized. JFHF is expected to help improve this situation.

Floor Hockey is offered in public schools in Nagano and Yamagata, which are ahead in the education on Inclusion, and in other prefectures. In some schools, amazing results have been reported that, after they made teams consisting of both boys and girls of sensitive ages, the quarrels between boys and girls have diminished, and the cases of bullying have been drastically decreased. Also, there was a junior-high-school intellectually-challenged student who joined a team of students without disabilities and moved his parents to tears by showing his “shining soul” during a game. This is the power of sport that we are talking about, and Mrs. Hosokawa believes that this sort of effect is the factor to set the world alight. So do I.

Speaking of social contribution, many might think of the support for developing countries. It is important, but we cannot forget that various social issues exist in our own country. They do even in UK and USA, and many sports programs for social change have been attracting rising attention. The interview with Mrs. Hosokawa very much motivated me to develop Sport For Smile as a platform of socially valuable programs such as hers, at the same time to raise awareness of various social issues.

*Kayoko Hosokawa “Hana-mo Hana-nare, Hito-mo Hito-nare ~ My life as a volunteer” Kadokawa Books, 2009
**In Special Olympics the participants are called as “Athletes”
***Kayoko Hosokawa “Hana-mo Hana-nare, Hito-mo Hito-nare ~ My life as a volunteer” Kadokawa Books, 2009

Interview: Mie Kajikawa
Photo: Tom Miyagawa Coulton