“I think Japan has been very interested to hear from the UK on issues relating to the Paralympics specifically”

Off and running

British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden


Text by Andrew Howitt / Photos byKageaki Smith

Sports fans around the world are getting excited about the major sporting events set to take place in Japan this year and next: the Rugby World Cup will be held this autumn and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics next July, August and September. British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden spoke with Eurobiz Japan about the importance of these events to the UK and the new opportunities they will bring.

Why are these sporting events important to the UK?

They’re interesting for us in a lot of ways. Rugby is a game where the rules were set in the United Kingdom, in the 19th century, based on a sport that came out of a famous school in Britain, called Rugby School. And Britain was the last country to host the Rugby World Cup, in 2015. As the British ambassador, I’ll have four teams to support this year. We’ll have Scotland, Wales and England, and, with the Irish ambassador, I share Ireland, because it’s an all-Ireland team. We’re expecting a lot of British rugby fans to come, possibly as many as 40,000.

Next year, we have the Olympics and Paralympics. The very first Paralympics was an event organised at Stoke Mandeville — one of the hospitals in the UK that does rehabilitation for injuries — in parallel with the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. We hosted the Olympics and Paralympics very recently, in 2012, which I think was seen by many as highly successful, both in terms of our team’s performance, but also in the way we put the event together. So, there are lots of opportunities for us to work with Japan and support it in making sure it’s a really successful event.

How has the UK been giving support to Japan as it gets ready to host the Rugby World Cup?

We have a number of memoranda of understanding with Japan across a range of areas, from sports to security to tourism, and a number of UK companies are involved in working with Japan in these areas. Japan is particularly interested in the security aspects of hosting a major international sporting event.

When Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe was in London in January, Prime Minister [Theresa] May took him to Twickenham, the home of English Rugby, where they watched some children playing on the pitch. Then they had a briefing from those responsible for security for major sporting events: the heads of Scotland Yard, the police service, the fire service, the ambulance service, the National Cyber Security Centre. I was at the meeting and one thing they talked about was the importance of all the different elements being well joined up, knowing how to communicate and coordinate effectively.

How is the rugby tournament helping to build UK–Japan relations outside Tokyo?

Matches will take place at 10 venues across the country, from Hokkaido to Kyushu, so it’s a chance for us to engage with parts of Japan that we don’t so often have a chance to. To give some examples, Scotland will be in Nagasaki, England will be in Miyazaki, and Wales in Kita-Kyushu for their training camps. Before the actual games start, they’ve each started developing relationships with the places they’ll be holding training camps.

How has the UK been giving support to Japan as it gets ready to host the Olympics and Paralympics?

I think Japan has been very interested to hear from the UK on issues relating to the Paralympics specifically because — I think most people would acknowledge — Britain really gave a boost to the whole concept of the Paralympics at the London Games, in terms of the level of engagement and interest that was generated. Some of that was because one of our major TV networks gave it full comprehensive coverage. The public really got behind it and the stadia were always full.

One area where we have been supporting the British Paralympic Association is around accessibility at some of the private hotels their members want to stay at in Japan. Rooms in Japanese hotels tend to be smaller than in the West and access for people in wheelchairs to bathrooms, for example, can be quite complicated. Clearly, it is quite expensive for a hotel to invest in making the necessary changes, so there’s been some reluctance. But I think part of the messaging for doing this shouldn’t just be about preparing for the Paralympics, it should be because, as a society that is embracing disability, we should have improved accessibility all the time. In Japan, and in many other countries, as we get older, more and more people are going to have mobility issues, so what you do for disability is actually quite important for the general population.

Could you tell me about the UK in Japan 2019–20 campaign?

It will consist of a series of elements. The first will be receptions and showcase events around the Games, which will involve the teams. Secondly, there will be five GREAT Weeks covering different business sectors: on health, life science and healthy ageing; the future of energy; mobility; finance, fintech and cyber; and creative industries. Another element of this is the British Council-led cultural programme. There will be some world-renowned British cultural institutions here: the London Symphony Orchestra and the National Gallery, for example.

We’re also going to operate what we call pop-up activities in four of the cities where rugby teams will be playing: Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. Primarily, they will be focused on promoting UK food and drink. It was announced in January that Japan has brought to an end its longstanding ban on British beef and lamb, which goes back to the 1990s, so now we can bring these great British flavours to the appreciative Japanese consumer.

We’re looking for companies to join as sponsors, either of the whole campaign or for smaller parts of the event. We see this as a real opportunity for British companies to engage and associate themselves with these great events.

This is a time when the world is going to be focused on Japan. The UK–Japan relationship is getting closer year by year, and this is an opportunity to showcase some of the strengths of our relationship.

“This is a time when the world is going to be focused on Japan”