Eriko Ibe continues to live out her dream and wastes no opportunity letting people know about “the other Nadeshiko Japan.”
The 29-year-old soccer player, who lost her hearing as a young girl, has been selected to the national soccer team and futsal team at the 2013 Deaflympics in Budapest.
At the third World Deaf Futsal Championships held in Sweden in November, Ibe was appointed captain of the Japanese national team.
Soccer and futsal for hearing-impaired players has just started to gain a following in Japan, but Ibe says her experience in Sweden helped expand her horizons.
In elementary school, Ibe often kicked around soccer balls with junior and senior high school boys in the neighborhood.
But it was difficult for her to play in a game in a large group because she couldn’t hear the voices of her teammates. Unable to find a team that met her needs, she turned to track and field in junior high school and competed in the shot put and other events.
At the age 19, when she was attending college, she found a futsal team for the hearing-impaired in Osaka, and immediately got hooked on kicking around a ball again. In futsal for the hearing-impaired, the game is played under the same rules as regular futsal, except the main referee uses a flag to communicate with players.
“I felt a sense of accomplishment and found what I’ve always wanted to do,” Ibe said.
The Japan Deaf Football Association was founded in 1998. It formed a women’s soccer team in 2005 ahead of the Deaflympics held in Taiwan in 2009. Ibe, who was working full time and belonged to a futsal team based in Kobe, was one of those selected for the squad.
The team was hastily put together, which Ibe says made her feel uncomfortable. In the team’s first match in September 2009, Japan lost 6-1 to Britain.
“I was happy to play at the Deaflympics," Ibe said. "But I wasn’t expecting the huge gap in skills with the rest of the world.”
When a national women’s futsal team for the hearing-impaired was put together, Ibe was selected for that team as well and wore the yellow captain's armband. Japan played host nation Sweden, Belgium and Poland, and ended up in ninth place out of 12 nations.
Despite the differences in skill level between Japan and its international rivals, Ibe said she was inspired by the foreign players who continued to play well into their 30s.
“I want people to know that even we can play on the global stage," Ibe said. "And help give dreams to younger people with hearing impairments.
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