A nation hopes that next month’s rugby sevens showpiece at the Tokyo Olympics, coming off the back of an historic run by the Brave Blossoms to the quarter-finals of the men’s Rugby World Cup in 2019, further raises the profile of the sport in the country, and women’s rugby in particular.
Chiharu Nakamura, who captained the Sakura Sevens at Rio 2016, sees the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring greater exposure to Japanese women’s rugby.
“Because we are the host country, it is a very good opportunity for us to make women’s rugby more recognised and to make it one of the biggest sports here (in Japan),” Nakamura told World Rugby.
Japan’s women took part when rugby sevens made its Olympic debut at Rio 2016, but managed to win only one match, 24-0 against Kenya, on the way to finishing 10th.
This time Nakamura, who was a surprise omission from the squad that will compete on home soil next month, is demanding a better showing in front of the home crowd at Tokyo Stadium.
“It was the first time for us to stand on the Olympic stage in Rio, but as it was the first time we had no expectations going in. I don’t think we understood the full scale of the Olympics,” she admitted.
“We have to get a better result than before.”
The pressure to achieve a better result will fall on Nakamura’s successors, co-captains Mayu Shimizu and Raichelmiyo Bativakalolo.
Nakamura, who also recently became the player/coach of newly-formed women’s side Nanairo Prism Fukuoka, is well aware of the responsibility on her shoulders to help build the women’s game.
She welcomed the recently launched World Rugby Women in Rugby global marketing campaign, Team Powered, which aims to accelerate the growth of women’s rugby worldwide.
“I believe that we have the responsibility,” she stressed.
“In 2019, through the Rugby World Cup, people understood the culture of rugby and the values of the game. This time in Tokyo, it is a great opportunity to showcase the characteristics and core values of rugby to people in Japan.
“It is a privilege to be a role model to younger players in this country, but we shouldn’t forget about the female players in the past who have made such great efforts for the sport in this country. I always tell younger players we need to keep this going.”
Currently, there are a little over 5,000 registered female rugby players in Japan, but the Japan Rugby Football Union have seen a significant increase in numbers since Rugby World Cup 2019 and are hoping for a further impact after the Olympics.
The Olympic men’s sevens competition will take place from 26-28 July, with the women’s tournament following on 29-31 July and the gold medal match happening on ‘Super Saturday’.
All the action will take place at Tokyo Stadium, which was the venue for the opening match of Rugby World Cup 2019.
To commemorate Olympic Day on 23 June and exactly one month to go until the Opening Ceremony, the International Olympic Committee has released a special video as part of its #StrongerTogether campaign as excitement builds around the globe for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.