Anyone who has been fortunate enough to lead an international school in one of the world’s major cities will know that opportunity often knocks in unpredictable, sometimes spectacular ways.
On 7 September, 2013, at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, it was announced that Tokyo would host the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Four years earlier, the International Rugby Board had confirmed Japan as the host for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019.
With Japan set to become the focal point of the sporting world, a chance had arisen to do something different—possibly quite special. But how were we at The British School in Tokyo (BST) to make the most of it?
The answer turned out to be our BST 19:20 Project. We set out with three broad targets:
- Extend our links with the community in Tokyo and further afield
- Create awareness of, and promote interest in, a range of new sports, including disability sports
- Find available land and develop our own off-site sports facility
Recognising that these major events offered a unique opportunity to engage with the wider community, we determined to play our part in helping to change the attitude in Japan towards people with disability, and to increase awareness among our own students.
As a school located in the middle of the city, we had struggled to find space to host team sports—particularly rugby and cricket. Developing our own off-site facility, in partnership with local government, would open opportunities to forge links with Japanese schools and sport associations.
We also saw the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games as a way to introduce and promote different sports.
We began, as all such initiatives should, with a hearts-and-minds approach. We built interest across our school community and beyond by inviting guest speakers, setting up workshops and launching social media accounts.
High-profile visitors to the school included Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, and Koji Tokumasu, director of the RWC 2019 Organising Committee.
A series of practical workshops for students quickly followed and, in 2015, Andy Barrow, a three-time Paralympian and former captain of the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby team, spent a full week at BST working with primary and secondary students. He visited again the following year.
Recognising the importance of student voices, a team of young journalists was established. They began publishing articles based on interviews with international administrators and athletes, both able-bodied and those with disabilities.
We also arranged visits to a wide range of high-profile sporting events, including the Blind Football World Grand Prix. On many of these occasions, students were able to meet the UK teams and the seeds of an ongoing relationship were sown.
During these efforts, we were able to secure land on which to develop an off-site sports facility. The lease was guaranteed in return for our commitment to involve local schools in our 19:20 Project.
Soon after, we became the first international school to gain affiliation to the Japan Schools Rugby Football Union. We then entered into formal partnership with Shibuya International Rugby Football Club to establish a club to bring together children from local and international schools on the rugby field. Further partnerships were established with the University of Tsukuba and the Japan Cricket Association. Suddenly, we found ourselves very much on the national sporting map.
With the snowball gathering pace so rapidly, it became clear that we needed a project director. In 2017, we were lucky enough to find and appoint Roisin Campbell, the current European Karate Champion, to a part-time role. Today, at an even more crucial stage of the project, she is working full time and is clearly revelling in her role.
“It has been a joy to watch students bringing their unique talents to the BST 19:20 Project, both in and beyond the classroom,” she said. “I am so excited to see where the next few months take us as we draw ever closer to RWC 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Games”.