Six inspirational students from disaster-hit areas of Japan have been sampling the Olympic spirit, benefiting from a cultural exchange and acquiring life-changing experience through the ‘Support Our Kids’ Programme, delivered in partnership with the IOC and the Swiss Embassy.
The students witnessed the magic of the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020 and will continue their experience with a visit to the Youth Olympic Village t to participate in the athlete education activities, attend a number of events on snow and ice (and learn to ski themselves!), and serve as volunteers for a day with the Lausanne 2020 Organising Committee. On arrival in Lausanne they were welcomed at Olympic House by IOC President Thomas Bach.
The six students are aged between 14 and 17, are all active in sport, and hail from the three north-eastern Japanese prefectures that were hit hardest by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which claimed 15,000 lives and left more than 500,000 people displaced. They were selected for the programme after providing compelling reasons about how they would use the experience to acquire skills to aid reconstruction efforts back home, particularly with regard to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The students are the second group to visit the Olympic Capital from Fukushima, with another group coming over for a similar two-week trip in April 2019. This had followed President Bach’s visit to the Japanese region in November 2018, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Along with their visit to the YOG, the inspirational group have been invited to attend at least one game of baseball or softball during Tokyo 2020 at Fukushima’s Azuma Stadium. The decision to hold events there was taken by the IOC in consultation with the Japanese government and is aimed at supporting recovery in the region, while Fukushima will also stage the first leg of the Tokyo 2020 Torch Relay in July. This is another highly symbolic gesture, and one of the students currently in Lausanne, Shuto Kumagai, will be a torchbearer.
“I am very excited and honoured to be a torchbearer,” says Kumagai, whose city, Rikuzentakata, was completely destroyed during the tsunami. “I have words to tell, because I experienced such a disaster. Sport encouraged me, and I started to believe that I can create the future.”
Another of the students is Yuzuha Yoshida, a table tennis player from Fukushima who saw the tsunami coming towards her but managed to escape, and lived in a shelter before evacuating with her family. She has since returned to the area and participated in the local ‘Yumoto Onsen Project’ to promote tourism there, while she has also joined a project to create Olympic monuments using the materials from temporary housing in Fukushima, which will be displayed in several Olympic venues during the Games. She has been making the most of her once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Winter YOG host city.
“People in Lausanne are very excited about the Youth Olympic Games,” she tells olympic.org. “And I am very happy being a part of this and enjoying it together. I can feel the Olympic atmosphere more and more by being here in Lausanne.”
During the meeting with President Bach, the students sang ‘Hana wa Saku’ (Flowers Bloom), a song written by film director Shunji Iwai in prayer for disaster reconstruction, and proposed that the song be sung at Tokyo 2020 before matches in the Azuma Stadium. That would be just one way that these bright, dedicated and inspiring students would have an impact on the Olympic Games and on recovery efforts their homeland.