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Wednesday, April 01, 2020

In Japan, a city prepares for India’s Olympians: Yoga on TV

Seven archers and support staff will train in the city during June-July before the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to start on July 24. And the mayor and town council members are set to roll out the red carpet to make the Indians feel at home.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Updated: March 2, 2020 9:21:22 am
India pre-Olympics camp Japan, Olympic training India in Japan, Japan training camp India, Kurobe Japan, Olympic 2020 news Izumi Egami from Tsukuba University helps athlete Hima Das wear a kimono in Patiala.

When members of the Indian archery team reach their pre-Olympics training camp in Japan’s Kurobe, local TV stations will telecast programmes on yoga and desi food to help residents understand the culture of the visiting athletes.

Seven archers and support staff will train in the city during June-July before the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to start on July 24. And the mayor and town council members are set to roll out the red carpet to make the Indians feel at home.

But first, a few questions need to be answered as the Japanese want to be the perfect hosts. In Delhi, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) officials, who scouted for training venues in Japan for various teams, are in the process of mining a detailed questionnaire from Kurobe.

Every box needs to be filled out carefully before the Indian archers land in Tokyo and proceed to Kurobe nearly 400 km away: What time will they sleep, what time will they wake up, time required for the lunch break, free time during the day, possibility of training sessions being open to the public, whether or not archers from the area can train with the visiting team, etc.

The camp kitchen has, meanwhile, asked for information on athletes with food allergies or diet restrictions because of religious beliefs. In a country where it is compulsory for children to join a sports club, the archers will be welcomed by elementary school students.

“An analytical mind and attention to detail are the hallmarks of the Japanese. The Japanese don’t want to make a mistake. Making a mistake is not in their system and is frowned upon,” says Randeep Rakwal, a professor who coordinated between the Kurobe town officials and the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs in India.

Rakwal has been in Japan for nearly three decades and is a member of the faculty at the health and sports sciences wing of the University of Tsukuba. He was in Delhi and Patiala last week to conduct a Japan cultural sensitisation workshop for the Tokyo Games-bound athletes and coaches.

When in Kurobe, Indian archers will be introduced to the food and culture of the region, invited for meals to the homes of local residents, taken on guided visits to the natural hot springs in the area and taught how to wear the yukata, a casual kimono worn during summer, as temperatures touch a high of 30 degrees centigrade just before and during the Games.

If archers want a yoga instructor at the camp, all they have to do is let their hosts know in advance. The highlight of a sight-seeing tour, which is being planned, is a train ride through green mountains to the Kurobe Gorge.

When the idea of Indians staying in Kurobe was first floated to the mayor, officials drove seven hours to Tsukuba to meet Rakwal, to build trust and understand the nitty-gritty of hosting the Olympic team before saying ‘yes’. Multiple meetings took place over months before Kurobe officials were convinced they could meet all the requirements from the Indian side.

“The first two months were about discussion, what we really want, what India wants and after that they finally trusted me. Power-point presentations were made, drone images of the area were studied. When the MoU was signed, the whole town came. Once that was done, they said ‘let us start’ and made a detailed Excel file which the Sports Authority of India is deconstructing,” says Rakwal.

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Rajesh Rajagopalan, chief executive officer of TOPS, has been left impressed by the meticulous approach. “Kurobe has become the host city. Other than accommodation of the archers, everything else is being taken care of by them. The mayor is fully engaged and has met officials of the Indian embassy in Japan. They have organised meet-and-greet programmes, taking the archers in the evening for cultural programmes, meeting with families there. They want the archers to be relaxed, too,” he says.

“We wanted our teams to go earlier and acclimatise before the Games. We had looked for options for all teams. As on date, the archery team will be based in Kurobe and the weightlifting team in Tokyo,” says Rajagopalan.

The TOPS team had first done a recce of potential training bases for Indian squads in July 2018 to coincide with the month when the Olympics would begin. This was followed by a second visit, which also comprised Sports Ministry officials before the MoU was signed in October last year.

The TOPS team also has a few questions of their own on the dos and don’ts while in Tokyo and Kurobe. But going by the exchanges so far, a detailed reply from the Japanese should be in the Sports Ministry’s official inbox shortly.

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