Special Olympics Nippon (Japan) held its National Winter Games in Fukushima in February this year. Nearly 600 Japanese athletes embodied the athlete oath of bravery not only with their skills, but for competing in a place that was devastated by the nuclear accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake.
The Winter Games was a culmination of Special Olympics Nippon’s work the past year, which focused on rebuilding affected programs after last year’s devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.
In the lead up to the Games, the safety and security situation in Fukushima was the primary concern for Special Olympics Nippon. Throughout the year-long planning process, Special Olympics Nippon had experts advise on the radiation levels of the location, which was constantly monitored and reported during each Planning Committee meeting.
The Special Olympics Nippon team made extensive visits to Fukushima to encourage athletes and their families to participate in the Winter Games. They also carried out a survey for the 47 prefecture programs for their views on having the Games in Fukushima. The overall results were supportive from the athletes and their families, giving them the confidence to continue with the Games.
On 10 February, the Fukushima Winter Games Opening Ceremony took place at the Inawashiro Town Gymnasium, and was attended by all participants, including celebrity supporters Apolo Ohno and former Miss Universe Riyo Mori. In her welcome speech, President and CEO of Special Olympics Nippon Yuko Arimori expressed her hopes the Games would bring a positive contribution to Fukushima’s rebuilding efforts.
With 400 staff and coaches, and 3000 volunteers supporting the two day event, the Games were a resounding success. 590 medals were awarded for the athletes’ sportsmanship. More than 80 athletes from the Games will be selected to represent Special Olympics Nippon in the 2013 Pyeongchang Winter Games.