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Respect your sport: Rules, culture, internal products
The city of Tokyo was elected to host the Olympic Games of 2020. Japan welcomes the Olympic Games to its territory for the fourth time. In a nutshell, we can say that Japan is a country with very close ties to the Olympic Games. Yet, when Pierre de Coubertin created the institution of the modern Olympics, Japan was unquestionably one of the countries farthest away from the Games, both on a geographical and a cultural level. In 1909, Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo and Director of the Tokyo Higher Normal School, became the first Asian member of the IOC. He remembers the situation in Japan at that time as follows:
When I became a member of the IOC, it was not at all easy to promote the Olympic Movement in Japan and most Japanese had not heard about the Olympic Games (Kano, “Waga Orinpikku Hiroku”, Kaizo 20.7: 269 and 272, 1938).
In short, Japan knew very little about the Olympic Games when it first joined the Olympic Movement in 1909. Three years later, in 1912, Japan participated for the first time in the Stockholm Games. Recently, the last Games in London were an opportunity for Japan to celebrate its 100 years of participation in the Games. I want to stress here that many countries, like Japan, which once had practically no contact with the Games, are taking part today in the Olympics. More than 170 countries and regions have joined the Olympic Movement after Japan’s participation.
At the lecture that I am about to begin, I will discuss Olympism of Coubertin from the historic and cultural point of view of countries which did not know the Olympic Games in the ancient times. At the end of this lecture, if we manage to see a new profile of the Olympic Games, this would mean that there existed at least more than 170 different profiles of Olympism which we did not know. I am sure that this methodology will lead to the main theme of this Session, which is “Olympic Values: Respect for Diversity”.
Respect for Diversity is essential for the Olympic Movement. Coubertin wrote after the first Olympic Games of Athens:
1) The sources of conflict in the world arise from ignorance, misunderstanding and prejudices against other countries. 2) It is therefore important to deepen mutual understanding among the people of the world. 3) The modern Olympic Games are a powerful system that can promote international mutual understanding (Coubertin, “The Olympic Games of 1896”, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine 53.1, p. 53, 1896).
In other words, the concept of Respect for Diversity – which is the exact opposite of ignorance, misunderstanding and prejudice against other countries – has the power of removing the seeds of conflict in the world.
The speech which Kano delivered in English to Japanese English teachers should also be considered:
1) The highest good to all will be realized when an intimate understanding of each other’s differences and peculiarities has been created. 2) English teachers materially help to promote that mutual understanding which is the foundation of a close union, lasting friendship, and the peace and happiness of the whole world (Kano, “To the Japanese Teachers of English”, The English Teachers’ Magazine 3.2, pp. 6 and 9, 1910).
In other words, as soon as Kano became a member of the IOC, he had this idea, which was close to Olympism, that mutual understanding between countries is the basis that will lead to peace in the world. Let us consider Olympism from these two Japanese historical and cultural viewpoints, whilst keeping in mind that understanding diversity leads to peace in the world, as envisaged by Coubertin and Kano.
II. The difference between the kemari and juggling
First of all, we shall call to mind the example of a Japanese sport, the kemari. The kemari is a type of juggling, according to the Japanese tradition. With a ball made of deer skin, six or eight players, wearing special costumes, work together as they juggle the ball with their feet, preventing it from touching the ground. The objective of the kemari is not to win or lose but “to do one’s best in order to make a good pass to the other players”.
Let me add that there are several features in the kemari that are different from juggling. We shall focus on three points regarding the movement of the ball and the body. The first is to keep a particular and elegant posture during the game. When a player hits the ball, he is not allowed to lean or bend his knees, and kicks are only allowed to a height that does not reveal the sole of the foot. Moreover, the arms must be fully extended. In a 12th century book (Sodemotino Sama, Kemari Kudensyu, vol. 1, no. 44), it is stated that a good game of kemari should be practiced as if we wanted to “fly with the wings of a bird” (Kuwayama, Kemari Gijutu Hensenno Rekisi, 1992, p. 34). This is a representation of Japanese esthetics dating back a thousand years.
The second point concerns the height to which the ball can be lifted. Called “the splendid height”, lifting the ball to a vertical height of 4.5 meters is a fundamental kemari technique. When a player passes the ball to another player, he should send it delicately to allow the ball to draw an arc at a low height on its trajectory, so that he can receive it more easily. This was described as: hitting the ball and making a good pass “in the form of a rainbow”.
The third point considers the number of times that the ball may be hit by the same player, which is three times on average. A proper and refined shot consists of three elements: 1) receiving the ball from another player; 2) hitting the ball in order to lift it in a “splendid” way; 3) passing the ball to another player by forming a “rainbow”.
Now, let us have a look at the video to watch a kemari game.
What do you think? What difference did you see between kemari and juggling? The students of my university have made the following comments: 1) Kemari represents beauty. Even if a shot is considered equally elegant in modern football, it does not in itself incarnate beauty but rather the principle of hitting the target. 2) Juggling enjoys a higher level of freedom. Its creative and unlimited performance thrills the public. 3) The “splendid” performance of kemari generates sensitivity. It would also be interesting to look for both beauty and recreation, whilst respecting a rule that restricts the body’s movement.
In the Olympic Review (“The Olympic Congresses”, February 1913, p. 19), Coubertin explains that the new Olympism is “a physical, intellectual, moral, esthetic pedagogy”. In this sense, the moralist spirit which involves “doing one’s best in order to make a good pass to the other players”, as well as the state of mind that links the physical, intellectual and esthetic aspect, in search of the ideal movement of the body and the beauty of the technique, will blend with the Olympism of Coubertin whilst crossing borders and time.
In the home countries and regions of the approximately 200 people who are present here today, there are many sports whose existence has not yet been revealed to the world, or sports, on the other hand, which are known but the values which they incarnate remain unknown. I wish these sports to be discovered through cooperation with youngsters whose culture, history and social conditions are different from ours. It is only by respecting your sport and sharing it with the world that you can embrace respect for diversity, a fundamental value of the Olympic Games.
III. The meaning of “victor”
Before coming to the subject of Japanese Olympic athletes, we will give some explanation of Chinese writing characters, which are special in our culture. This is how my family name is written in the Latin alphabet: WADA, like the acronym of the World Anti-Doping Agency, that you all know. In Japan, we address people by adding “san” at the end of a name, for example “Wada san”. The term “san” is pronounced almost like the word “sun” in English. So, if you address me as “Wada sun”, this will make you a good expert of Japanese culture.
Of course, Japanese names are usually written with Chinese characters. The first character of my family name, “Wada”, has a pacifist meaning, which is “Accept the words and position of the other, give to the other what you can give”. The second character, which is “Da”, means paddy field, which is the earth on which rice, the basic Japanese food, grows. Contrary to wheat fields, the peculiarity of the paddy field is that it is covered by water. Therefore, the name Wada reflects an image of the precious role of rice, a foodstuff that is essential for life and which grows without making mother earth a trampled battlefield. This rice grows and thrives thanks to water, which is indispensable for life.
“Kou” means “large and big, huge in volume”. This character is also used in the first name of Prince Hironomiya, the present crown prince of Japan. “Ichi” means “1, first of all, best, maximum”. My parents probably named me Koichi, hoping that their child would carry the most open spirit in the world.
The Chinese characters that are usually used in Japanese society are approximately 2,000, but in large dictionaries there are more than 100,000. Then, as I showed you with my name, all Chinese characters have a very broad meaning. Taking this idea into consideration, here is the story of the athlete Hagiwara Tomoko, who received the fourth prize in the 200m backstroke at the Sydney Games in 2000. This story is published on the web site of the Japanese Olympic Committee.
We often say that we do not need tenderness in the sports competition world. Is this true? When I was in primary school, a coach used a phrase that really shook me: “You don’t need tenderness when you compete. You cannot win if you don’t have the will to win even by pushing others aside”.
During my school years, I saw that on the certificate which I received after my participation in a race, the word “victor” was written instead of “first prize”. Of course, I fully understand the Chinese characters of the word “victor”, which mean “he who excels shall win”. Having said that, I also had huge doubts and I asked myself: why are we using the character of tenderness, which is not there when you defeat the opponent? This doubt remained in my head for a long time.
In the word “victor”, the first Chinese character “Yu” has two meanings: excel and tenderness. The second Chinese character “Sho” means “victory”. The dictionary describes the term “victor” as “he who excels shall win”, but Tomoko Hagiwara believes that this could be read as “he who has tenderness shall win”. Let us now go on with the story of Hagiwara san:
When I arrived at Sydney Olympic Games, at the age of 20, it was the last day of the selection trials. I participated in the selection events in three disciplines, over a period of one week. The first discipline was the 100m butterfly, which was a defeat. I did win first place in the second discipline, however, which was the 200m medley. I thus qualified for participating in Sydney. It was the 200m backstroke, however, scheduled on the last day, that was the race in which I absolutely wanted to take part during the Olympic Games.
Three of the older athletes with whom I had already competed were present at the 200m backstroke event. Two of them had already qualified for participating in the 100m backstroke at the Sydney Games. The third person, who had not yet obtained her qualification for this discipline, was Miki Nakao, the Japanese national record holder. The pressure linked to my will to qualify at any price in this discipline made me ill. I started crying in the athletes’ waiting room that was empty and silent, telling myself that I no longer wanted to swim. And then Nakao san arrived. She consoled me and said to me, “Tomoko, why are you crying? We had promised ourselves that we would take part in the Olympic Games, so let us persevere!”
I was greatly surprised because it was obvious to me that the athlete who should have been under the greatest pressure was Nakao san, since she had not yet qualified. Despite her situation she spoke to me, although I was her rival. If I had been in her situation, I wonder if I would have spoken to Nakao san. Thanks to Nakao san’s words, I pulled myself together and swam, hoping with all my heart that I would participate in the Olympic Games with Nakao san. Finally, Nakao san managed to win first place in the last event and my wish finally came true when I also qualified in the 200m backstroke for the Sydney Olympics with Nakao san, whom I greatly admire.
Through this experience I was able to find the answer to the question that had been running through my head since my early years. We do need tenderness in the world of sport competition. The character “Yu” in the world “Yusho”, which means “victor”, has two meanings: the first is “excel” as an athlete and the second is that of “tenderness” as a human being. Nakao san, who has both outstanding skills in swimming and human qualities, obtained the bronze medal at the Sydney Games with gusto.
Before becoming an athlete, it is important to know how to behave in a human way. The human value that was revealed to me through my participation in the Games is for me today a source of great wealth.
Hagiwara san finished in fourth place in the 200m backstroke at the Sydney Games, behind Nakao san. Because of Hagiwara san’s perseverance, the objective of which was to participate at the highest competitive level, which the Olympic Games represent, this athlete could feel in her body and her mind the universal values that “human tenderness” implies. What we should not forget is that this Japanese cultural trait, which is linked to the use of the Chinese characters, allowed Hagiwara san to become fully aware of this universal value. This episode has undoubtedly led to a vision of the Olympic world that you have probably not experienced, since most of you do not know Chinese characters.
This invitation to discover another world implies the important role that diversity plays in Olympism. I want to underline here that each of you shares this diversity, which conceals a wealth that may motivate people to discover an unknown world.
Almost 100 years ago, Coubertin explained Olympism as follows:
Olympism is not a system; it is a state of mind. It can permeate a wide variety of modes of expression and no single race or era can claim to have monopoly of it (Coubertin, “Olympic letter”, La Gazette de Lausanne, 22 November 1918).
These words convey to us what Coubertin was becoming aware of, i.e. the existence of the universe of Olympism, which transcends our imagination in space and time. These are the words which express the “respect for diversity”, the value of the Olympic Games that Coubertin showed us. These words inform us of the purpose of this meeting in which young people, who come from diverse cultural, historic and social horizons, participate with a view to “reflecting, feeling and debating” the value of Olympism and sport through a variety of activities. I initiated my discussion on Olympism by referring to a Japanese historical and cultural point of view, at a time when Japan did not know the Olympic Games, by using the example of the kemari and of the Chinese character that means “victor”. It is now your turn to talk about Olympism according to your own historical and cultural perspectives.
WADA Koichi, "Respect your sport: Rules, culture, internal products", in: K. Georgiadis(ed.), Olympic values: Respect for diversity, 54th International Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia, 15-29/6/2014), International Olympic Academy, Athens, 2015, pp.145-152.