Chicago Shimpo
Special Olympics Celebrates its 50th Anniversary with the First-Ever Unified Cup

Athletes with and without Disabilities Play Soccer Together

• In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, “Unified Cup” of soccer tournament was held from July 17 to 20 at Toyota Park in Chicago where the Special Olympics were born. Unified Cup is a new concept of a sport where soccer players with and without intellectual disabilities work as a team to compete with other teams. It was held for the first time in the world. Unified soccer teams participated in the cup from 20 countries including a team from Fukushima, Japan.

• To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics (SO) and welcoming a team from Fukushima, a reception was held at the official residence of the Consul General of Japan on July 18. The distinguished guests were Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of SO; Timothy Shriver, SO International Chairman; Yoshiko Mitsui, SO Nippon Chairperson; Kazumi Kojima, Managing Director of SO Nippon; Hidetoshi Tanaka, Global Ambassador and former member of the national soccer team; Riyo Mori, Dream Supporter and 2007 Miss Universe; Teruhiko Kobashi, singer and songwriter; and Masahiro Yamaoka of Toyota, the corporate supporter of Unified Cup.

• The Japanese team played against the Italian team on July 17 with a result of a standoff. On the following day, Japan played against Jamaica and lost 1 to 4. Hikaru Kuroba, who made one goal, said, “Jamaica team was very strong. They were big guys and moved very quickly. I made one point and thought that it was a good turning point to change our team mood.”

• The Japanese team consisted of 16 members with an even ratio of those with and without intellectual disabilities. The team members with disabilities have worked in a transport company, watch maker, hotel, super market, and senior citizen’s homes. Some members were in job training. Most players without disabilities have worked for Toyota.

• Doctor Hidenori Fujii, who accompanied the team to take care of their health conditions, talked about a moving scene. A member with disabilities was crying after Japan lost to Jamaica, and other members were soothing him. Then a member of the Italian team came to cheer him up and said, “We lost today 0 to 5. Your score was better than ours.”
• “I was very impressed to see that friendship between those with and without disabilities. Their fellowship was expanding beyond the border of countries,” Fujii said. He volunteered to participate in the delegation.

• Consul General Naoki Ito, who had watched a game a day before, said, “I realized that this Unified Cup really presents the opportunity for the people around the world with and without intellectual disabilities to connect and enhance mutual understandings to share passion and love for the sport.”
• He also said that he hoped to expand friendship between Chicago and Japan through Unified Cup, and the Japanese team’s participation in Unified Cup would enhance awareness and understanding on the cause of SO across Japan.

• Yoshiko Mitsui, Chairperson of SO Nippon, said that a brave lady, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who strongly believed in the abilities of intellectually disabled people, launched SO 50 years ago when a small number of people would understand them. “Now millions of athletes participated with intellectually disabled people in SO from 170 countries and areas. This fact has proved that Eunice did a right thing,” Mitsui continued.
• She also introduced a Japanese version of Eunice’s story. Doctor Sakuma, founder of Asaka Hospital in Fukushima, opened a hospital and school for intellectually disabled people 51 years ago. Now his son, Kei Sakuma, took over his father’s wishes and has served as Chairman of SO Fukushima.

• Timothy Shriver, Chairman of SO International said that three years of collaborating efforts made it possible to hold Unified Cup in Chicago.
• He said to the Japanese team, “Maybe today’s game didn’t end as a way you wanted, but this is the world of skill development challenge. You should know that you had been in a game.”
• Shriver, who had met the owner of Toyota, explained the meaning of “kaizen”, that the word was the philosophy, the attitude, the spirit of continuous, constant efforts for improvement. “We are here for the first-ever Unified Cup in history, and you are the first making history. You are making families, province, and country proud. You are ambassadors of SO philosophy of ‘kaizen’, which you’ll play with tomorrow,” Shriver encouraged the members of the Japanese team.

• Singer and songwriter Teruhiko Kobashi, a vocalist of a Rock band “Glay”, made a cheer song for the Japanese team and introduced the song. He said, “I composed it and wrote its lyrics to represent your supporters. It’s a really good piece.”

Interview with Yoshiko Mitsui

Q: I heard that you founded SO Nippon in 1994.

• Mitsui: Actually Mrs. Kayoko Hosokawa, wife of former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, did it, and I just supported her. Together, we have devoted ourselves to promote SO Nippon for 24 years.

Q: I think that most people in Japan didn’t pay much attention to intellectually disabled persons at that time.

• Mitsui: At first, fundraising was really difficult. I thought that we could do it with Mr. Hosokawa’s name and his influential power.
• The Japanese government also didn’t understand the importance of SO at all. They said that you cannot keep operating such an organization funded by donations.

Q: What were they doing?

• Mitsui: The government held sport events for intellectually disabled people; however, the participants were only disabled people, their families, their teachers, and related people. There was no connection with the larger population. That was a wall, which prevented general people from understanding the abilities of intellectually disabled people. That was why we started to organize SO Nippon.

Q: How did you feel when you actually interacted with intellectually disabled people?

• Mitsui: I thought that their level of spirit was beyond ours. You think of playing wheeler-dealing or calculating loss and gain, but they don’t.
• Once they start doing something, they never give up or stop. People generally say that such behavior is their disability, but for that reason, they can comprehend what they try when they are given an opportunity to do so. It takes a longer time, but I’m sure they can do it.

Q: After nearly a quarter century, do you think that more people understand them?

• Mitsui: Certainly! I really think that the society has changed into a good direction. The government, companies, and the public have been becoming a society which naturally accepts those who have disabilities. It’s a huge change from 24 years ago.

Q: Thank you very much.


The team members of Special Olympics Nippon and friends pose for a photo with their banner at the official residence of Consul General Naoki Ito.