24 February, Doha – His Excellency Dr. Khalid Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, has opened the Qatar Sports Park Shirakawa (QSPS) at an official ceremony held in one of the areas hit hardest by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Aspiring athletes and schoolchildren are just some of the 150,000 people that will benefit from the new all-weather surface running track, stadium, sports centre and gymnasium at the complex in Shirakawa City, Fukushima Prefecture. Support for this $5.8 million project was provided by the Qatar Friendship Fund (QFF), as a gift from the Gulf nation to the Japanese people in their road to recovery.
Sport has always been an integral part of life in Shirakawa. Yet when the earthquake struck, the local gymnasium and other facilities were used as a refuge centre for families seeking shelter from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The fallout from this tragedy meant that outdoors activities were severely disrupted thereafter.
“The Great East Japan Earthquake altered the lives of millions in Japan – people’s housing, livelihoods, and own sense of security,” the Foreign Minister declared. “For the people of Fukushima Prefecture, this also meant an unparalleled disruption in their way of life and in the very organization of their community.”
“Sports, the pursuit of physical and mental well-being, are values deeply shared between the Qatari and Japanese people,” His Excellency added. “We are truly delighted that the Qatar Sports Park Shirakawa has been completed and can now serve all community members, whether young or old. It is my hope that this wonderful project will contribute to the region’s recovery and serve as a place where people can come together in their passion for sports and community building.”
In addition to the renovated athletics field and gymnasium, QSPS also comprises a very modern indoors sports facility for the community. Coined the “ANNABI Sports Plaza”, after the burgundy colour of Qatar’s flag and the nickname given to Qatari sports teams, this new construction includes a safe and interactive area tailored to the needs of young children and families.
Earlier in 2014, the renovation of the outdoors field was celebrated with a two-hour athletics class held for 200 elementary and junior high students. During the session, Olympic trainer and track and field club manager at Fukushima University, Kazuhisa Kawamoto, spoke of the physical and emotional benefits of daily exercise: “I want children to recognise the enjoyment that can be had through exercise and to make use of this athletics field. I want them to use their strength and be motivated and that this attitude will lead to a brighter, happier, and more successful future”.
This vision is already being realised, as the track of this pioneering sports complex was included in the Shirakawa Marathon held in September 2014. Last 14 December the Qatar Friendship Fund also sponsored a football class at QSPS for local children, run by Japanese football stars Mr. Tetsuji Hashiratani and Mr. Masahiro Fukuda. The event drew a crowd of approximately 100 junior school students, who were very excited to interact with such celebrities and thoroughly enjoyed the new facilities.
Today’s launch ceremonies included public remarks by the Foreign Minister and by Shirakawa City’s Mayor, along with a formal recognition of the best performers from the December football class in the presence of QFF Goodwill Ambassador, Mr. Tetsuya Bessho.
Mayor Kazuo Suzuki emphasized the positive contribution made by QFF to the city’s regeneration: “Thanks to the Qatar Friendship Fund’s support, we are now able to open this new health and sports facility. This project certainly brings Shirakawa and our community one step closer to reconstruction.”
Mr. Bessho further spoke about the depth of the relationship between Qatar and Japan: “Our two countries have enjoyed a long and lasting friendship – in addition to development and economics, both value education and culture. A beautiful proof of this friendship is the Qatar Friendship Fund. I hope that through these many projects born through QFF’s support, this strong and long-lasting relationship will continue to flourish.”
Today’s opening ceremony was followed by a final celebration of the new complex through Kendama, a traditional Japanese game uniting all generations, in an attempt to reach a Guinness World Record for the largest Kendama class ever organized.
Known as “Cup and Ball” in English, “Billeboquet” in French, or “Kugelfand” in German, Kendama is said to have been introduced in Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868). This very popular game is played by both adults and children, and can be enjoyed even in small spaces. It experienced renewed international celebrity around 2010 when young Americans exported Kendama to the United States, combining it with hip-hop music and filming themselves practicing various techniques.
Plans for the Qatar Sports Park Shirakawa were announced in the middle of 2013. The opening ceremony was preceded the day before by the unveiling of the Qatar Science Campus at Tohoku University, yet another flagship QFF project.