When sports matches and activities were cancelled in Japan because of Covid-19, talented high school boys and girls lost their chance to showcase their sports performances for future applications to universities and sports teams. But an organisation founded by rugby internationals Nozawa Takeshi and Toshiaki Hirose and others supporting their initiative has filled the gap.
Originally called #NeverStopPlayingRugby, it has now morphed into #NeverStopPlayingSports to support student athletics under Covid-19 in a wide range of sports, aiming to nurture independence in the future generation.
Initially, several high school students began updating videos of their performance on social media with the movement name which were retweeted by famous players and sports fans in order to enhance their university application. The movement, supported by the media, quickly went viral, and as a result, several players were accepted to play for universities or a top league.
The initiative that began with two sports, rugby and basketball, has been adopted by nearly 20 sports such as football, handball, hockey, judo, volleyball and even cheerleading! It is supported by many big names from Japanese sport both active and retired, including Tadahiro Nomura, the three-time Olympic judo gold medallist, Olympic swimmer Naoko Imoto, World Cup rugby player Ayumu Goromaru and Japanese volleyball player Kana Oyama and Takahiro Yamamoto.
The programme won the Pioneer Award at the Innovation League contest organised by the Japan Sport Agency and Sports Tech Tokyo in March 2021.
The organisers say they have created a safe online platform to connect students with universities and teams which can only be used by registered users. For young athletes, showcasing themselves not only helps them identify their own strengths and weaknesses but also leads them to refine their aspirations and future goals.
#NeverStopPlayingSports aims to prepare an environment where all athletes can keep playing sport and advance to the next level no matter what team they belong to or where they play, by helping them to think, evaluate, make decisions and act on their own initiative as responsible individuals.