Professor David McGillivray – University of the West of Scotland, UK

Some months ago Dr Ian Brittain and I decided to apply to the ESRC’s Japan: UK networking grant scheme because we wanted to be able to familiarise ourselves with the work of Japanese scholars in the field of Paralympics and disability sport. Writing the successful bid in late 2019 I was, admittedly, quite ignorant to the vagaries of Japanese culture and to its academic practices and traditions. For that reason when we planned the first of two reciprocal networking visits I was eager to learn more and avail myself of the opportunity to be educated about all things Japan – especially in relation to the upcoming 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

I was not to be disappointed. I found that I was more naive and ignorant of Japanese life than I’d expected. For example, I now appreciate the importance of being on time and ‘being the same’ as features of Japanese working life. I now know that not all Japanese children or adults are digital innovators or early adopters and that the education system continues to rely on analogue technologies in many places. 

More importantly, in the course of five intense days in March, I learned that the position of people with disabilities in Japan is still a cause for concern – that the forthcoming hosting of the Paralympic Games may do little to address the lack of coaches with the right skill sets, or the teachers with the time or resources to teach their pupils about social models of disability. 

Visiting higher education partners in the UK, I also learned that we have some exceptional work taking place educating PE teachers, coaches and volunteers about the importance of sport and physical activity in the UK. We heard about how students at University of Worcester studying PE or sport coaching have understanding of the needs of people with a disability built into their degree programmes. But that work is underfunded, government support is fragile and the legacy of the 2012 Paralympic Games is precarious. Though ‘apparently’ some way ahead of the situation in Japan, there is little reason for celebration in the UK post-2012.

Finally, what I took most from the week was the reminder from Dr Gyozo Molnar (see image above) that we have a great responsibility as researchers working in and studying disability sport to operate with humility, foreground accountability and recognise power relations in our research. 

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