This is the last installment of a three-part series on women's soccer in Japan. Interest in the sport is high right now after Nadeshiko Japan won the Women's World Cup and earned a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.
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Winning does have its rewards. After lifting the Women's World Cup in mid-July, about half the players of Nadeshiko Japan got upgraded from economy class to business class for their triumphant 12-hour flight back to Japan from Germany.
"We wanted to reward them for their hard work, though we couldn't offer that upgrade to all the players due to a seating availability problem on the flight," says Eiji Ueda of the Japan Football Association.
This is reportedly the first time that any player on the Japanese women's soccer team had flown business class, although it wasn't the entire team.
The JFA first placed priority on the revitalization of women's soccer when former JFA Chairman Saburo Kawabuchi, who was appointed to the post in 2002, founded the so-called "Captain's Mission." But what happened to the JFA's investment in women's soccer since then?
In fiscal 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, the JFA allotted more than 60 million yen ($786,100) for strengthening the women's national side. The same year, it allocated roughly 789 million yen to strengthening the men's Under-23 national team, which competed at the Olympics. That's more than 13 times the amount allocated to the women's team.
After Nadeshiko Japan made it to the top four at the Beijing Olympics, the budget for strengthening the women's side was doubled. This fiscal year, the budget remains flat from last fiscal year at 135 million yen. The budget for the men's national team, which competed at the World Cup in 2010, increased by 180 million yen from the previous fiscal year to 2.035 billion yen this fiscal year. That's roughly 15 times the amount allocated to the women's team. The men's Under-22 national team has a budget of 854 million yen. If you compare the men's and women's teams that are both aiming for the 2012 London Olympics, the budget for the men's team is six times larger than that of the women's team.
How is the funding for strengthening top athletes different among men and women in other sports? The Japan Volleyball Association allocates the same amount of funding for the men's and women's national teams. The Japan Basketball Association allocates roughly the same amount, but slightly more for the women's team. JABBA says this slight difference reflects the performances of the men's and women's teams in international competition. The Japan Swimming Federation, the Japan Association of Athletics Federations and other sports organizations base their budgeting allocation completely on results from both the men and women on the global stage. The allocation of the training budget, in particular, is based on whether athletes' performances exceed standards set ahead of the Olympics or World Championships.
How do people feel about the soccer industry's funding gap between the men's and women's teams?
"I feel it is justified, considering that female players comprise only 5 percent of all registered soccer players in Japan, and because we are strengthening professional men's players," says Ueda.
Last year, the JFA introduced a system for helping out women's players who play for teams overseas. This system provides a lump-sum payment of 200,000 yen and a daily allowance of 10,000 yen a day. The JFA also launched a women's section within its promotional department, and began a new project for scouting talent. But because the budget remains small, the JFA is also searching for tie-ups with the central and municipal governments.
"For now, we aren't doing anything aimed at increasing funding for women's soccer," says Ueda. "It all boils down to how much we can achieve under the current conditions."
It would seem that the JFA's focus on men will not be changing, for a while, at least.
Ueda cited an interesting difference between Japan and the United States, which has 1.66 million registered female soccer players, roughly 45 times that of Japan.
"One of the reasons soccer took root in the U.S. is because soccer scholarships to U.S. universities are awarded equally to male and female students," he says. "The U.S. has a law mandating that. I think a nation's societal structure also affects (women's soccer)."
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