Friday, March 18, 2011

athletes for japan


i've had more than a few people tell me (or critique, if you want a more accurate word) that endurance athletes seem to be less involved in social causes relative to other sports. the points offered as reference were generally professional athletes in sports like basketball, football (american and soccer), baseball, etc., who i understand are encouraged by their professional leagues and player unions to engage in charitable causes. the comments i've received always led to the observation that in comparison to these other sports, professional endurance athletes seem to be much more introspective and much less engaged in social causes.

i'm not so sure this is true, and i've always insisted that 1) there's less money in professional endurance sports, so high-profile activities are more difficult to carry out; 2) there's less publicity in professional endurance sports, so less awareness of what social causes those athletes pursue; and 3) i'd venture to argue that an empirical analysis with a survey might yield results that would surprise a few people.

having said that, it always warms my heart when i see the endurance sports community rally together for a cause. case in point:
the article is about Run for Japan, which began in the wake of the current Japan disaster within the endurance sports community (primarily long distance runners) but is now broadened out to all athletes in all sports (professional and amateur) with the goal of raising money for Japan victims. the website is at the following:
if you feel like helping Japan earthquake and tsunami (and potentially radiation) victims out, here's another way to do it.

you can see the names and contributions of athletes involved, and it really does make me proud of the sports community. it shows that athletes, including endurance athletes, really are sensitive to what's going on in the world, really do care about what's happening elsewhere, and really do engage in social causes to make the world a better place--in short, that athletes are human beings just like everyone else.

that, and it offers the rest of us more motivation to be the same.

it's all about good karma, baby.

so do good, kids, do good!

Athletes Come to Aid of Japan
New York Times
March 18, 2011
Christopher Clarey

They had just moved back to Britain from Japan, and for several days, the British marathon star Mara Yamauchi and her Japanese husband watched coverage of the developing catastrophe and felt moved beyond words, yet powerless.

Then their friend, the British marathon coach Martin Yelling, called with the right idea. Yelling and some of his colleagues wanted to help relief efforts by mobilizing the global running community, asking people to dedicate one of their runs to Japan with a corresponding donation.

The goal: to cover collectively a distance amounting to the circumference of the earth — 24,901 miles, or nearly 40,000 kilometers — in 28 days, with at least one run dedicated from every country in the world.

The Web site,, was started Thursday, and by the end of the day in Britain, with word just starting to spread, runners from places as farflung as India, Australia, South Africa, the United States and Japan had registered their runs and support.

“It’s been heartbreaking watching on TV, but through running, which is such a positive thing, we can encourage others to make a difference,” said Yamauchi, who is an ambassador for this initiative along with Britain’s biggest running star, Paula Radcliffe.

“Japan is also a running-mad country, so I think using running as a tool to help will appeal to the Japanese population,” she said. “It is just a way for us to help in a small way with a huge problem.”

Small, well-conceived ideas have a chance to grow bigger in a hurry, however, and Japan could clearly use help from all quarters as it faces a death toll that has risen above 6,000 and a repair bill estimated by some specialists at more than $100 billion.

“I think for any country to recover from the scale of this disaster — the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear power station issues — would be an incredible task,” said Yamauchi, a former British diplomat, in a telephone interview. “Yes, economically it’s been difficult the last sort of 10 to 15 years, but I think Japan will definitely rebound. I’ve been really struck by the dignity and strength people show despite all the suffering they are going through.”

Though governments and major relief organizations are, by nature, best equipped to address a problem of these proportions, numerous sports figures around the world are once again doing what they can to raise awareness and funds, with awareness at this stage clearly less of an issue.

The South Korean pitcher Park Chan-ho, now with the Orix Buffaloes of the Japanese Pacific League, has donated ¥10 million, about $124,000. The South Korean soccer star Park Ji-sung, who plays for Manchester United but started his professional career in Japan, has pledged 100 million won, about $88,000.

In the United States, the New York Yankees donated $100,000 to relief efforts last week, and this week, Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and other Japanese players on the team joined Red Sox staff at the gates of the team’s spring-training stadium in Fort Myers, Florida, to encourage and collect donations from fans before games.

In Lenzerheide, Switzerland, site of the weather-bedeviled World Cup finals in Alpine skiing, several top racers, including Julia Mancuso of the United States and Didier Cuche of Switzerland, have pledged prize money to Japan relief and are attempting to mobilize their community on the Web site

In Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, at the world biathlon championships, the four members of the team that won the 30-kilometer relay for Norway last week, including the sport’s leading man, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, donated their prize money.

In Indian Wells, California, on Thursday, the world’s No. 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and her friend and quarterfinal opponent Victoria Azarenka posed with a Japanese flag on which Wozniacki had written “Our thoughts are with you!” They then asked for the crowd to join them in a minute of silence.

There was also silence in Tignes, France on Wednesday before the SuperPipe final at the European edition of the Winter X Games, and more silence before the start of every UEFA club soccer competition match this week, including four in the Champions League.

There have been scores of other pauses for mourning and reflection, many other gestures large and small. Others are surely on the way: from Miami, site of the next major tennis tournament, to Seoul, where the South Korean national soccer team will donate a significant percentage of proceeds from a friendly match against Honduras on March 25.

The sports world is, after all, a mere subdivision of the wider, more daunting world. Though sports have often seemed much closer to a distraction than a welcome diversion at a time when the focus belongs on Japan, sports can remain relevant by helping to sharpen that focus.

Yamauchi feels more relevant now that she is encouraging her fellow runners to put on their spikes for a country she holds dear and where she and her husband, Shigetoshi Yamauchi, lived until just last week. They moved to Britain to be closer to Mara Yamauchi’s aging parents and to have access to top medical treatment as she attempts to recover from a lingering hamstring injury in time to challenge at next year’s Olympics in London (she was 6th in the Olympic marathon in Beijing).

“I left on the 24th of February and Shige left Japan and arrived here on the 10th of March,” Yamauchi said. “We went to sleep, woke up on Friday morning and got a call from my mother saying, ‘Put on the TV. There’s been a massive earthquake in Japan.”’

But though Yamauchi has now found a way to act as well as observe, she is not quite ready to be a full participant in her own relief campaign.

“I’m afraid I’m doing a walk for Japan tomorrow,” she said. “I wish I could do a run for Japan, but I’d get a telling off from my physio if I do that.”

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