i enjoy! Para Sports Park! (Part I) | 5,000 People Attend Tourism EXPO Japan
The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (Parasapo) ran the “i enjoy! Para Sports Park” parasports workshop event at Tourism EXPO Japan 2018, which was held from September 20 - 23 at Tokyo Big Sight.
“i enjoy! Para Sports Park” is an event that allows people to experience parasports while learning about them. It was held for the third time this year in order to create more opportunities for people to spectate parasports and to encourage tourism, as part of “Tokyo Tokyo,” a project to increase the brand power of Tokyo as a city. The event was a resounding success, with about 5,000 people in attendance—much more than the year before.
What is “i enjoy! Para Sports Park”?
“i enjoy! Para Sports Park” is an amusement park-style event, hosted by Parasapo, in which everybody—from children to adults, from people with disabilities to the able-bodied—is able to partake casually in parasports. The theme is to “learn about,” “watch,” and “experience” parasports. The event is also meant to drive interest and momentum for para-athletes and parasports in general, by having visitors experiencing various parasports under the guidance of Paralympians and para-athletes.
About 5,000 people attended this year—more than last year ©Parasapo
The Almost Pleasant Impact of a Tackle
The sounds of wheelchair against wheelchair rang out in one corner, where visitors were able to experience the tackles in wheelchair rugby. Yasushi Mineshima, professional wheelchair rugby player and chairman of the Japan Wheelchair Rugby Federation, served as host, livening up the area with his skillful commentary. Participants were tackled by three wheelchair rugby players, in decreasing order according to their degree of disability*.
*In wheelchair rugby, players are assigned a point value from 0.5 – 3.5 depending on their degree of disability, with a maximum of eight points on the court for a team of four.
Participant nervously awaiting the tackle
Participants waited, uneasy and fearful, for players to come through with the tackle, which involved a running start. When it came, they seemed stunned by the impact, but immediately after were filled with smiles, even going around to high-five the players. “I felt my body floating when their wheelchair hit mine. It was a huge impact, but it actually felt almost pleasant, and was so fun,” said a participant, who experienced the powerful tackle of a player on the Japan national wheelchair rugby team.
One participant in the workshop was a former rugby player. He played as a wing on his high school and university rugby teams, said, “It really is quite an impact. But it feels good. I’d love an opportunity to try it again!”
Former rugby player enjoyed the tackle
Masayuki Haga, a wheelchair rugby bronze medalist at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, was there as well, tackling participants while representing AXE, a wheelchair rugby club team based in Saitama Prefecture. Haga played an important role in the national team winning Japan’s first world title in the Wheelchair Rugby World Championships, which was held in August of this year. Watching visitors stream one after another into the wheelchair rugby corner of the event, he smiled, and said, “It’d be nice if the fact that we won the world championship—which was broadcast on TV—has driven up interest in wheelchair rugby.”
The Appeal of Parasports, as Felt Through Competitive Play
Wheelchair rugby player Takayuki Norimatsu offered lessons on the main court. Participants first learned the basics, like how to move around in a wheelchair, then were split into teams to play against each other. These were very exciting games, particularly since wheelchair rugby is a sport where everybody—men and women, children and adults alike—can play together. The court rang out with cheers whenever someone scored a try.
Participants having fun moving around in their wheelchairs
Participant struggling to pass the ball while in a wheelchair
Dodging the rapid pursuit of a wheelchair rugby player
Commemorative photo after the game, with participants making the “i enjoy!” mark
Family participated in the wheelchair rugby workshop
A coach of a mothers’ volleyball team was one of those who participated in the workshop. Though he exercises on a fairly regular basis, he told us, “It was a short period—15 minutes—but it was tiring. Not just physically, but also mentally, from having to know where the ball is at all times while trying to maneuver the wheelchair. It really is a hard sport that’s taxing on both the mind and body,” expressing his wonder at the depth in the sport.
The women who participated in the workshop said “The wheelchair against wheelchair action feels really good. There’s a definite impact and it’s thrilling, but it doesn’t hurt, which is nice. The wheelchairs look stiff and sturdy, but you can make tight turns, and they’re actually pretty easy to move around in”.
Participated in the wheelchair rugby workshop
The wheelchair basketball lesson was popular as well, with tickets “selling out” as soon as registration started for each lesson, much like for the wheelchair rugby lessons. The lessons were helmed by Shinji Negi, captain of the wheelchair basketball Japan national team for the Sydney Paralympic Games, who is also engaged in efforts to popularize parasports in elementary, middle, and high schools in Japan through the Parasapo-hosted Asuchalle School “Challenge for Tomorrow” project.
Shinji Negi, who is also a popular instructor at the Challenge for Tomorrow project
In wheelchair basketball, you have to shoot the ball through a hoop set at the same height as in regular basketball, but without jumping. The games were intense, and the audience cheered along, even as participants struggled to throw the ball up high enough to get to the hoop.
Participants experiencing for themselves the difficulty of shooting in wheelchair basketball
Strangers coming together to play a friendly game
Boy participating alongside his father
A seemingly effortless throw
A former professional snowboarder who said he focused mainly on the snowboarding events at the PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games, said he enjoyed the experience, telling us, “This was my first time playing wheelchair basketball, but it was so much fun playing these games, even with strangers. It really transcends the scope of able-bodied vs. para-sports—it’s a fun sport, and that’s that.”
text by Shinichi Uehara, Parasapo
photo by Hisashi Okamoto