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【CenterNews】 The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center Receives FY2016 Asahi Sports Prize !

A ceremony for the FY2016 Asahi Sports Prize was held on January 30 at the Imperial Hotel in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. This year's prize went to the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, which offers support in a variety of ways such as free office space for Paralympic sports federations, and female wrestler Kaori Icho, who at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games was the first female to win individual-event gold at four consecutive Olympics

The prize recognizes individuals or groups, whether professional or amateur, that put forth excellent achievements in the field of sports. Last year the prize went to the Japanese rugby team that played at the World Cup in England. Because last year saw the Rio Games, the last Summer Games before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, it seems they focused on Olympics and Paralympics related individuals and groups this time. It is the first time in nine years (since 2009) for the prize to have multiple recipients.

Icho and the Paralympic Support Center were both presented with a relief trophy and an extra prize of 2 million yen, and were congratulated by several hundred people gathered at the venue.

The Asahi Prize, Osaragi Jiro Prize, Osaragi Jiro Rondan Prize and Asahi Sports Prize were awarded at the ceremony.

On receiving the award, Chief Executive Officer Nao Ozawa represented the Paralympic Support Center with a speech. "I am very humbled to know we will join the list of the impressive recipients of this prize throughout the years, including four-time Olympian Ms. Icho. We have been driving our center forward at full speed, with a small but talented team of primarily young members. I think we finally started to feel a bit out of breath around the end of last year, but then we learned we were to receive the Asahi Sports Prize. This strengthened our teamwork and unity more than ever. It gave us energy, right when we were almost running out."

Although Japan did not win a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics held in September 2016, they brought back 24 medals altogether, eight more than the total number at the previous London Paralympics. The Paralympic Support Center offers both tangible and emotional support for Paralympic sports federations, which tend to have a weaker support system compared to non-para sports federations. It has been committed to supporting those federations continuously, for example with translations of overseas sports information, and is expected to be a strong "background" supporter for Japanese Paralympic athletes working toward the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. The Asahi Sports Prize was a result of these points.

Kiyoshi Miyata, Chief Editor of Asahi Shimbun's Sports News Section , explained the reason for the Center's selection, saying, "The Paralympic Support Center supports not only Paralympians, but a broader array of Paralympic sports. In addition, the Center is a time-limited organization that will dissolve in 2021, and it encourages the sports federations it supports to become independent by the 2020 Tokyo Games. Many of the judges said these actions merit a gold medal."

Chief Executive Officer Ozawa: "We will keep going forward at full force, so that you will be proud that you gave us this prize."

people tend to forget to enjoy themselves, but we really had fun at the Rio Paralympic Games. The local people were truly enjoying sports, and there were no barriers between countries or impairments."

The shared floor in Minato Ward, Tokyo, houses the offices of 28 sports federations. Ozawa continued, "We have learned from the members of the sports federations that, of course winning is important (for sports), but also about the meaningfulness of para sports. There is a noble awareness of changing society with para sports. I work in this stimulating, fun environment. I hope to move forward, with all my heart and strength, together with the sports federations and other stakeholders to make 2020 the best and greatest of opportunities."

Other para athletes and groups that received this prize in the past include Mayumi Narita in 1996, who won five medals in swimming at the Atlanta Paralympic Games, Shingo Kunieda (and others) in 2007, who was the first to win all Grand Slam tournaments in wheelchair tennis in a single year, the Kyoto Para Sports Promotion Association in 1995, which promoted and helped spread para sports for a quarter century, and Kobe Cosmos in 2006, which helped promote and establish rules for para baseball.

Chief Executive Officer Ozawa ended his speech with, "We will continue to give our full support so that more para athletes, not us, will receive this prize in the future."

After the ceremony, Naoko Tsukamoto, Secretary General of the Japan Wheelchair Tennis Association, said in an interview with the press, "We use meeting rooms in the shared office space for our meetings. The central location also makes a very convenient place to meet with people outside the association."

Toshihiko Tamagawa, Chairman of the Japan Wheelchair Basketball Federation, said, "The other day, the U23 Japan Men's Team put on a great performance and gained a ticket to the world championships. There are more athletes who are playing overseas. These and other points show a favorable movement towards the Tokyo Games. In our efforts to promote our sport, it is very encouraging for a para sports party to be recognized in this way," before leaving the venue with a smile.

Ms. Icho (left) and the Paralympic Support Center received the prize for FY2016

Many stakeholders gathered at the ceremony

text by Asuka Senaga,photo by X-1
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