Highlighting JAPAN Vol.121 June 2018

2341 2 Niigata Albirex BB’s basketball arena, with fans sporting the 3 4 Nagaoka, to the train station. The arena is integrated with municipal facilities, and multiple stalls open in the event space during games. Many fans come from outside the prefecture, which contributes to regional activity in not only Nagaoka City but also Niigata Prefecture as a whole. Niigata now has twelve teams incorporating “Albirex” in their names competing in eight sports.“One of the J.League’s three guiding principles is to foster the development of Japan’s sporting culture, as a way to assist in the healthy mental and physical growth of the Japanese people,” Albirex Niigata Inc. President Yukio Nakano says. “Naturally, this includes spreading and promoting football, but the underlying idea is that we are involved in the region through a variety of other sports as well. Rather than just being a professional football team, we consider ourselves a department within a general sports club, so we stay in close communication with other athletics for the development of sports in Niigata, and brainstorm about things we can do together.”Basketball, Inc., also points out the importance of lateral connections.“The timing of football and basketball league play is out of sync. When it’s the off-season in football, it’s the opposite in basketball—the climax of the season. Recently, and perhaps because of that, a growing number of people come to cheer us on while wearing their football uniforms. So it may be that fans have a sense not so much of supporting basketball but of supporting Niigata.”Big Swan Stadium, the home base for Albirex Niigatateam’s trademark orangeVolunteering in the local community is important to Niigata Albirex BB athletes, shown here leading a basketball class for kidsThe athletes join the local community for many events, such as planting rice to make sakeManabu Kosuge, the president of Niigata Pro Even beyond soccer and basketball, the way that team names and team colors of sports organizations including baseball, skiing and athletics and cheerleading are unified in Niigata is almost unprecedented in Japan, and provides a sense of unity between the various teams. The aim of creating a comprehensive regional sports club has led many prefectural residents to consider “Albirex” a valuable public asset of Niigata.These collaborative efforts have integrated the lower branches of the organization responsible for energizing and guiding the next generation of local athletes. Providing opportunities for children to find the sports that suit them and freely receive advice and training leads to the discovery of talent.“Sports have the ability to appeal directly to the spirit and to inspire,” says Nakano. “When you have a great local team that you can cheer for passionately, communication surpasses generational boundaries and becomes smoother. It’s my belief that this will eventually help drive regional revitalization.”That idea is certainly proving to be a winning concept in Niigata. © ALBIREX NIIGATA ©NIIGATA ALBIREX BB13

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