Photo/IllutrationKamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In just one month, the Rugby World Cup 2019 will kick off in Japan.

The Rugby World Cup is the world’s third-largest international sports event following the Olympics/Paralympics and the FIFA World Cup.

Four years ago, in its first match in the last Rugby World Cup, held in England, the birthplace of rugby, perennial loser Japan defeated South Africa, one of the top rugby powerhouses. It was described as the biggest upset in the history of the sport.

Many Japanese still have fresh memories of the heady excitement that enveloped the nation.

The total attendance at the 44-day tournament, which will run from Sept. 20 to Nov. 2, is projected to be 1.8 million, including 300,000 to 400,000 fans from abroad.

One of the 12 stadiums hosting the event will be in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture. Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium, located in the coastal city in the northeastern Tohoku region, has been built at the site of a school destroyed by the huge tsunami triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

We strongly hope the new stadium will serve as a venue not just for enjoying great rugby matches but also for interregional and international sharing of the spirit of prayer for the victims of the disaster and celebration of the reconstruction of the local communities.

Some 13,000 volunteers will welcome rugby players and fans from various parts of Japan and the rest of the world. Many of these volunteers are also hoping to work for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well.

Experiences during the Rugby World Cup should be used for next year’s major sports event.

Organizers should pay serious attention to observations and suggestions made by volunteers and other people working on the front lines, and convey valuable information and lessons to the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee and the Tokyo metropolitan government.

One big challenge for organizers of both the World Cup and the Olympics is to ensure smooth transportation of large numbers of people.

When an international soccer match was held at the World Cup stadium in Oita last autumn, heavy traffic jams around the stadium caused serious delays in the arrivals of the buses carrying players and prevented many fans from arriving by the start of the game.

Even though most of the tickets for the match were sold, there were many empty seats as a result.

Clearly, re-evaluations of access to all the World Cup stadiums are needed to prevent similar situations.

What is troubling is the fact that the 61 local governments that have been chosen to host pre-tournament camps have not been notified of the training schedules and other camp details of the teams they will accept. Many of the local governments have not yet made detailed plans for exchanges between players and local residents.

The teams may have various reasons for not disclosing their training schedules and not being so eager to engage in exchanges with the local communities of their campsites.

For example, they will stay only for a brief period of time, and they will want to focus on preparations for the tournament.

But the event will be an invaluable opportunity to boost the popularity of rugby in Japan and promote international exchanges between Japanese people and top rugby players in the world.

The organizing committee should seek greater cooperation from the teams for exchanges with the local communities so that many citizens will have happy experiences and gain good memories from the event.

During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which Japan jointly hosted with South Korea, heart-warming exchanges between players and citizens at various places pumped up the event despite some cases of trouble, none serious.

The organizing committee and the local governments involved should work out effective plans to ensure that the tournament will create many good opportunities for interchange and interaction among fans including foreign visitors, citizens, players and other people involved.

The rules governing player eligibility for the Rugby World Cup do not require players to represent their own country. Japan’s national squad has many foreign-born players.

They first came to Japan at various ages and for various reasons. Some have acquired Japanese nationality while others have not.

The teams participating in the Rugby World Cup are groups of people with different backgrounds and nationalities working hard while respecting one another with a united will to achieve a shared goal.

The event will no doubt provide ample inspiration and insight for planning and plotting a new future for an increasingly diversified Japanese society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 20