WE ACTION DAY Albirex Niigata Ladies goes beyond countries and disabilities by interacting through football

2022-23 Yogibo WE League Week 11, Albirex Niigata Ladies held two activities for WE ACTION DAY from March 13th to 19th. On the 13th, under the theme of "Let's connect through football - Beyond borders and disabilities -," was a meeting with the Ugandan junior and senior high school students at the "International exchange with Ugandan girls connected by uniforms for smiles” held on the 13th held online. And on the 19th, participated in the "NiFA Para Football Festival" and enjoyed sports regardless of their abilities and disabilities.

Trying out "Blind Soccer," "Deaf Soccer" and "Walking Football"

The NiFA (Niigata Prefecture Football Association) Para-Football Festival was held in Seiro-cho of Kitakambara-gun, Niigata Prefecture – the hometown in Niigata Prefecture. Fifteen Albirex Niigata Ladies players and 42 participants experienced the charm of a variety of football. It is an event where everyone enjoyed parasports such as "blind football," "def football," and "walking football" regardless of the disability, age, or gender. The group was first divided into three groups and played three sports in the order assigned.

In "Blind Football," everyone tried "dribbling and shooting" while wearing an eye mask. Everyone heard the crowd cheer when a player from the local Niigata Phoenix Fires showed a vivid dribbling shot as a demonstration. The participants listened to the voice of the "caller" who gave instructions at the goal – and while they struggled, they pushed forward and shot.

In "Deaf Football," Japanese national team players Keita Furushima and Akito Takizawa acted as coaches, wearing earplugs as they communicated with each other. They acted in accordance with the gestures, flag movements, and instructions written in a sketchbook. Constantly getting instructions from different angles, so the participants were able to concentrate and move their body.

Satsuki Miura commented, “Blind football players and deaf football players were better at their feet and that overwhelmed me. When I first experienced it, I was scared to play football in a situation where I can’t hear or can’t see. So I was amazed to see football being played in that state,” as she expressed with much emotions.

At the end, everyone experienced walking football using three courts. Adults, children, professionals, and people with disabilities all chased the ball and aimed for the goal. Since everyone had learned the importance of communication, they all played being conscious of communicating and using gestures.

The two-hour parasports experience ended ever so quickly. Furushima, a member of Japan's deaf football team, said "Through the two-hour experience of para-football, I think I was able to convey a little bit of the magic. I don't have many opportunities to interact with professional football players, so I was grateful for the opportunity. We're both always debating on how we can get supporters to come see us, so I'd like to improve as a football family through various exchanges."

Nono Chihara, who plays for a local youth football club, said, "I thought it was nice to see different people play different kinds of football. This session, I was impressed by blind football. It was difficult to depend on the sound to kick the ball. I was happy to be able to experience it with Yuina Yamamoto and Yume Takigawa, whom I admire. My dream is to be a WE LEAGUE player, so I can use today's experience to open my eyes to new experiences,” as she said with a smile.

Megumi Kamionobe had experience playing on the same team as Aika Sato, the former goalkeeper of the Japan Women's Deaf Football Team when she was in elementary, junior high and high school. So she was deeply moved by this experience. “I had flashbacks where Sato was the keeper and gave me instructions very well, and I realized how amazing it was at the time as well. Through the experience of playing Para-football, I really felt the importance of communication. I really want to cherish the different ways we can communicate, such as using gestures and voice. I was able to reaffirm the great appeal of football that ‘I can enjoy playing football with anyone’.”

In addition, Albirex Niigata Ladies carried out hometown activities and promoted their philosophy through activities during the week from 13th to 19th as WE ACTION week. On March 13, an online event titled “For the smiles of the world – cross-border exchanges with Ugandan girls connected by uniforms” was held. They shared their precious time with the students. Chika Hirao, Moemi Ishibuchi, Ayaka Michigami, and Sian Brough asked each other what they wanted to know about football. They had serious discussions about various things including playing football.

On the 18th, at the "Murakami City Heavy Rain Disaster Reconstruction due to heavy rain from August 3, 2022 and Disaster Prevention Symposium," the club conducted water supply volunteer activities when the heavy rain occurred last year in Murakami City and received a letter of appreciation. And the day before on the 17th, a football class for elementary school students was held. Mizuki Sonoda, Yurie Shirasawa, and coaches interacted with local children.

This year's WE ACTION DAY was a week of fulfilling exchanges, following the theme of "Let's connect through football~beyond borders and disabilities~." It seems that everyone was able to feel the joy of being able to communicate with various people through football in this modern genderaiton.