Corporate Japan gives amateur football the nod.
Charity Soccer for UNICEF
Over the past few years the credibility of Japanese professional football, which for a long time had been questionable at best, has taken a monumental leap forward. One major catalyst for this was certainly Japan's co-hosting of the FIFA World Cup with Korea in 2002.
The spotlight shining on Japan during the world's biggest football competition, aided the plight of some of their homegrown talent in securing or reaffirming their 'star' status' abroad. Shunsuke Nakamura, the Celtic regular who could teach David Beckham a thing or two about free-kicks, along with the likes of ex-national team and Bolton Wanderers midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata and Junichi Inamoto, who had a spell with Arsenal, have all become household names, not just in Japan, but the world over and despite a mediocre showing by the national team in Germany last year, have all paved the way for the next generation of Japanese football exports.
For amateur football players in Japan, the knock-on effect of the professional game gaining more credibility, general support and recognition has been appreciable, with new amateur clubs forming each season and more established teams gaining corporate backing. Also, the infrastructures in place that support the grassroots game are growing to meet the new demands, as Tokyo Metropolis League organizer Sid Lloyd explains.
"On the one hand, yes we are just an amateur football league," says Lloyd. "But then again the league has grown from supporting 19-teams when it first started in 2004, to 24-teams, and there are new teams on waiting lists to join each season. Coupled with this as the league has grown, so has the interest in it by the corporate world and we now have a number of multinational corporations sponsoring the league which is a testament to its growth. The teams themselves have been able to secure their own corporate sponsorship deals on the back of the exposure they gain through participating in the league and other tournaments organized by Tokyo Metropolis League's parent company Footy Japan Ltd," he says.
Take the British Football Club Tokyo for example. This club, which now comprises a first and a second team, is one of the (if not the) oldest and best-established international football clubs still operating in Japan. The club boasts a 26-year history and has had a number of notable sponsors along the way. None more so than their current sponsor, Reuters - the world's leading information providers. Reuters were also one of the Gold Sponsors of the latest of the small-sided tournaments that Footy Japan organizes throughout the year and in which the British Football Club also played.
The Footy Japan/YCAC Charity 6's Football Tournament, held in March each year, is perhaps one of the most prestigious one-day football events on the annual calendar and attracts a variety of teams and also support from the corporate world which helps to generate a healthy amount of finance for the charity UNICEF.
This year with the support of the following sponsors, nearly half a million yen was raised for this very worthwhile cause: GOLD SPONSORS: Magellan; Robert Walters; Reuters; Oakwood Worldwide; Coca Cola; Bloomberg. SILVER SPONSORS: TUV Rheinland Japan Ltd. BRONZE SPONSORS: Crown Relocations, Wall Street Associates.
19-teams took part in the event held at the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club on March 21st, half of which play regularly in the Tokyo Metropolis League, the other half were comprised of teams who play outside the TML or are corporate representative teams like CareerCross, Taros (Bloomberg), Robert Walters, Robert Half and JAC Japan.
The eventual winners on the day were Amanis FC, a tenacious team who play in TML's second division and their effervescent midfield-maestro Jorge Kuriyama, who played at a professional level in Mexico, also won the Magellan MVP Award for his outstanding efforts both outfield and in goal.
For players of all abilities, teams or indeed corporations who may be interested in taking part in or supporting the burgeoning international grassroots football events and competitions in Japan, the first port of call would be to check in with the Tokyo Metropolis League homepage (www.footyjapan.com/tml) or contact firstname.lastname@example.org - a number of players looking to join a team have quickly done so by contacting Footy Japan by e-mail and having their details posted in the regular TML captains' e-newsletter. Those looking to join in an upcoming tournament in some capacity should check in with the Footy Japan Tournaments website which contains all the details on upcoming tournaments and information on how to register a team, become a sponsor or generally get involved! (www.footyjapan.com/pages/fjtnews.html).