by Alexandra Stevenson
(19 September 2012)
The Tokyo branch of Reuters News Agency reported on Sunday that, due to the worsening political conditions in a dispute about the ownership of northern uninhabited islands which lie between the two countries, the Japanese Skating Federation has threatened to pull out its participants scheduled to take part in the Cup of China Grand Prix in Shanghai at the beginning of November unless “cast iron safety guarantees” are provided.
To this American observer, the Japanese concerns seem somewhat over-reactive. The Chinese love the Japanese skaters, as was demonstrated at last season’s Cup of China and other skating events held in that country. As in every Grand Prix, participants are surrounded by security throughout the event.
The islands under dispute appear to have no real resources except for their strategic outlying location and the rich nearby fishing grounds. The dispute has run for many, many years but has escalated recently.
The Japanese team comprises former world champions Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Daisuke Takahashi. Also representing Japan are the pair, Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran. On the U.S. team is Mirai Nagasu, who is of Japanese descent.
The JSF President, Seiko Hashimoto, spoke of their fears following the withdrawal of Chinese badminton players from the Japan Open last week. That had followed Japanese competitors pulling out of the Asian Sevens Series, a cycling event in Shanghai.
In a press conference, Hashimoto did hold out some hope. “The safety of the athletes is the most important thing. If (the Chinese authorities) acknowledge this, we will make every effort to send a team.” Protests about the Islands have recently occurred in front of the Japanese Embassy in Beijing.
An associate member of the ISU media team pointed out that some years ago, a protest was feared in China during a Grand Prix event over how World War II was incorrectly reflected in Japanese school books. It was a very hot topic in other Asian countries, but the action did not happen and the Japanese were very warmly received.
Obviously, the new title sponsors of the Cup of China, an automobile company, are not pleased with the situation. They had previously put out the following release: “With the title sponsorship of the Cup of China, Lexus will provide long-term and comprehensive support for the development of figure skating in China. During the signing ceremony, Lexus also announced the launch of “Lexus Figure Skating Open Day”, which is an equally exciting program under which free figure skating trainings will be provided for young people in China on a regular basis. Akira Sasaki, Chairman of Toyota Motor (China) Investment Co., Ltd. said, “There are children with no access to this elegant sport. We value the desire cherished by each and every child. We hope that with this program, we can help children in China to pursue their dreams in the skating rink.” The open day program will be a long-term initiative. After the first year in Beijing, the program will also be staged in other Chinese cities, so that the enchanting beauty of figure skating could be appreciated by young people everywhere in the country.”