IWAKUNI CITY, Japan --
Sitting atop Atago Hills and overlooking the serene Japanese landscape and Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni, there’s a stadium where the best softball players in the U.S. can keep their eye on the gold while training for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Atago Sports Complex offers modern training facilities such as a gym, track and baseball field with the capability to help the USA Softball Women’s National Team train to an apex level of competitiveness.
John Gouveia, the president of USA Softball; Joy Sakurai, the principal officer of the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka; U.S. Marine Corps Col. Richard F. Fuerst, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni; Yoshihiko Fukuda, the mayor of Iwakuni City; and others came together for a signing ceremony at the stadium to designate Iwakuni as a pre-Olympic training site, April 4, 2019.
The signing solidified an agreement that the softball team will have a training camp at the Atago Sports Complex for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. It also confirmed that during their stay in Iwakuni, the team will participate in exchange programs with Iwakuni citizens and MCAS Iwakuni.
Putting ink to paper for this agreement spells out the strong friendship between the two countries, and is an example of how sports diplomacy and the Olympic Games can bring the citizens of each country together.
“Strengthening the alliance comes in many formats, and one of them is our effort to build upon the already excellent, mutual goodwill,” said Sakurai. “With support from both the Japanese and American side, this would be a plus for the U.S. women’s team as they prepare for the Olympics.”
Iwakuni was considered a prime location due to the warm welcome from both the base and city, the serene setting to relax during down time and that it has a place for the team to have absolute focus while training.
“Iwakuni has the right balance of being surrounded by lovely nature and is a short distance away from the metropolitan life of Hiroshima,” said Sakurai.
According to the city’s sports promotion office, the U.S. team is scheduled to be in Iwakuni in July for approximately 7 to 10 days for the training camp.
“Kizuna Stadium has been a symbol of the U.S.-Japan [alliance] since it opened,” said Fukuda. “I find it very significant and I feel quite emotional that we are hosting the USA Softball Women’s National Team as a training camp for the upcoming Olympics.”
Collaboration like this doesn’t happen overnight.
In March 2017, Sakurai took a tour of the stadium and gave it a high recommendation as the most suitable site for the training camp in preparation for the Olympics. In July, Iwakuni was registered as a host town for the U.S. team. In August, they met with Chris Sebren, the Team USA Director of National Teams, in a bid for the training site. Sebren and two employees then visited the sports complex in January 2018, the team earned a place in the Olympics in August 2018, and Fukuda officially made the proposal for the training camp in November 2018. On April 4, 2019, the agreement was officially signed.
“As all of you already know, I am very interested in the aviators’ readiness on MCAS Iwakuni because it brings peace and stability to the region,” said Fuerst. “They allow us to focus on more pleasant things like baseball and softball. The second step to readiness is being a good neighbor here in Iwakuni city.”
Fuerst said that MCAS Iwakuni and the 13,000 people he represents appreciate the opportunity to work with the smart, fit and tough young ball players in the future.