Last year, the enactment of the sports fundamental law increased the central government's role in promoting Japanese sports and means that Japanese Olympians for the upcoming London Summer Olympics will receive state-funded support.
Olympians are given priority for using the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences and National Training Center, which are managed by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
In London, for the first time at an Olympic Games, a state-funded multi-support house will be opened near the Olympic Village. The house cost about 540 million yen ($6.9 million) to set up. Japanese athletes can use the support house for training and take special carbon dioxide baths designed to help them recover from fatigue.
Still, there is no guarantee that government-funded aid will directly lead to an improved medal rush. A multi-support house was also set up at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in 2010, but Japan only managed to win 48 gold medals, compared with 50 at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, where there was no multi-support house.
Regardless, Japan is hoping to strike gold big time in London.
Haruki Uemura, head of the Japan Olympic delegation for London, said Japan's goal at London is to "win the fifth largest number of gold medals among participating nations.”
The same goal has been stated in the sports ministry's sports fundamental plan. To achieve this goal, Team Japan needs to win about 15 gold medals in London compared with the nine won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Since the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Japanese Olympic Committee has become independent of the Japan Sports Association and has sought a more private-sector led administration.
If Japan succeeds in winning the fifth largest number of gold medals among participating nations, the government will consider the National Training Center and multi-support efforts successful and take credit for the results. If Team Japan fails to achieve its goal, the JOC will be held responsible for not having effectively used the state-funded facilities and programs.
“Either way, the sports ministry’s authority will strengthen,” says an official of a sports organization.
Several sports sports organizations have said that the JOC is no longer needed.
Meanwhile, the JOC has been increasing its reliance on the central government by asking for the construction of new national training centers for equestrian events, marine sports such as canoeing and winter sports.
The JOC is also seeking a national training center for Paralympic athletes.
The sports ministry has also been considering creating a sports agency that would oversee sports for the physically challenged.
In June, Japan’s Paralympic swimming team trained at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences for the first time as a team. Until now, a few physically challenged swimmers had used the JISS pool, but June was the first time the entire team trained together there. This long-awaited dream was achieved with the cooperation of the Japan Swimming Federation, whose facilities the Paralympic swimming team usually relies on.
Activities related to physically challenged athletes are managed by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. This means that athletes aiming for the Paralympics fell through loopholes due to government red tape.
“I hope that (the initial training at JISS) will lead to our regular use of these facilities,” says Masahiro Terada, head coach of the Japanese Paralympic swimming team.
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