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Ryo Kawamura x Yoshu Nobusawa : Facing Their First Paralympic Games (Part II)

Football 5-a-side and goalball come together in this dialogue between two members of the Japan national team. Ryo Kawamura, captain of the Japan national football 5-a-side team, and Yoshu Nobusawa, a member of the Japan national men’s goalball team and oldest confirmed member to represent Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, engage in a rousing online discussion that transcends the boundaries of both sports. Tokyo 2020, postponed a year due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be the (long-awaited) first time Japan will compete in a Paralympic Games in either sport. They talk about what they love about their sports and their teams, as well as the feelings and motivations they have towards this most special of stages.

Ryo Kawamura (31 years old)
Captain of the Japan national football 5-a-side team since 2016, and main offensive player

Yoshu Nobusawa (34 years old)
Emotional center of the Japan men’s national goalball team, who served as captain of the team until February 2020

*See here for Part I of this article
Ryo Kawamura x Yoshu Nobusawa : Facing Their First Paralympic Games (Part II)

――This home-country Paralympic Games will be the first time either of your teams will compete in the Paralympic Games. You two have both experienced the frustration of being very close to qualifying, and yet not qualifying, for the Paralympic Games.

Nobusawa in tears at the Goalball World Championships after his team failed to qualify for the Paralympic Games
photo by JGBA

Yoshu Nobusawa (hereafter “Nobusawa”): I’ve been on the Japan national team a while, and I’ve competed in three preliminaries for the Paralympic Games—Beijing, London, and Rio. But the experience that’s stuck with me the most was when we failed to qualify for Rio in 2015.

We had two opportunities—the Asia-Pacific Championships for an Asia slot, and the Goalball World Championships, which would pit me against the whole world in terms of qualifying for a slot. The world championships was first. We lost by one point to Iran in the match that would’ve gotten us to the Paralympic Games. It was because we’d let them score a point, and part of that was a mistake I’d made. In the Asia-Pacific Championships after that, I went to the site of the tournament but got injured in the first match of the preliminaries, and wasn’t able to compete in any matches after that.

The Rio Paralympic Games was the one immediately before Tokyo—where we could compete in the host country slots—so I’d wanted more than anything for us to be able to qualify for it based on our skill alone. I was captain at the time as well, and I was just so ashamed about dragging down the team like that. When everything was over and I left China, where the Asia-Pacific Championships was held, I remember just thinking, “What even was the point of me coming here?” And it was impossible for me to go from that feeling to wanting to work towards Tokyo 2020, at least immediately.

Ryo Kawamura (hereafter “Kawamura”): The Japan national football 5-a-side team has never made it into the Paralympic Games either. The one experience that’s stuck with me is the preliminaries for the Rio Paralympic Games in 2015. I was still young then, so there’s a lot of frustration I still remember from that time.

But maybe the most difficult experience for me was the 2019 IBSA Blind Football Asian Championships, which was held as part of the preliminaries for Tokyo 2020—which we were going to compete in in the host country slot. The championships in 2019 was held in Thailand. Japan came in third, but in the semi-finals, we’d gone up against China, and even though the results of the match (2-2; 2-3 after PK) didn’t seem too bad, we felt from it that we were outmatched.

Looking back, it was a really tough tournament, having to achieve these results in the midst of a really difficult environment. There was the heat, and the matches would get delayed by things like blackouts and sudden rainstorms. It was also just that the teams in Asia had gotten a lot better, and that none of the matches were easy. We’d gone in there with the goal of competing in Tokyo 2020 as Asia champions, so we’d given it our all. And so to end up in third place was a truly frustrating experience.

Kawamura standing in the rain after the team was defeated in the 2015 preliminaries for the Rio Paralympic Games
photo by X-1

――What are your goals for Tokyo 2020?

Nobusawa: In terms of goalball, the Japan women’s team has had really great achievements, like winning a gold medal in the London Paralympic Games, for instance. So for the men’s team—which has gotten the same amount of training as them—to not be able to achieve those kinds of results is very frustrating. We want to achieve those kinds of results in Tokyo 2020 not only to try to catch up to the women’s team, but also to be in a better position to compete in the Paralympic Games in the future.

To be able to compete in the Paralympic Games and to win a medal, would be to… give back to all of the people who have supported us, who have helped us in our training, who guided me to goalball. And that’s really what I want.

Kawamura: The goal of the Japan national football 5-a-side team is to win a gold medal. We’ve chosen to believe that Tokyo 2020 will go on as planned, and we want to go into it having prepared to be the best in the world. Our team has done “simulation” camps where we’ve practiced competing in high-temperature, high-humidity environments, figuring out how to perform to the best of our ability and make it through tough opponents. We’ve also spent a lot of time strengthening our communication skills, which really affect the precision of our teamwork. It’d be great if you all could watch for those plays in the Paralympic Games.

Nobusawa: Winning a gold medal in your first time competing in the Paralympic Games—that would be the coolest thing. Now all we have to do is keep going so we can make this happen!

Kawamura: Yep—work as hard as we can so more and more people can watch us fighting for those gold medals!

text by Asuka Senaga
key visual by Parasapo

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