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Building Japanese research capacity around disability studies and sport to positively impact the lives of people with disabilities - 2020 and beyond

Principal Investigator

Dr Ian Brittain (Coventry University)

Project Dates

January 2019 – March 2020


ESRC UK-Japan SSH Connections Grant


University of West of Scotland
University of Worcester
University of Kent (UK)
Juntendo University
Hokkaido College of Sport and Medicine
Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group
Co-Innovation Laboratory (Japan)

Project objectives

  • To move from collaboration to a network of Japanese and UK SSH researchers (experienced and early career) in the area of disability studies and sport (DSS);
  • To foster inter-disciplinary research between SSH researchers in Japan and the UK in the area of disability and Paralympic sport (DPS), drawing on the fields of sport studies, sport development, urban geography, cultural studies and sociology that will lead to new understandings of the potential of DPS to change the lived experience of PWD.
  • To develop a programme of knowledge sharing in the field through collaborative discussion, sharing of knowledge and identification of training needs. This would include a particular focus on cultural context in research, contextualising the differences and commonalities in each country in how DPS is constituted, historically and in the present time.
  • To co-create a series of interdisciplinary methodologies to study the field of DSS, including a focus on more participatory research methodologies and methods that entail working with PWD in the design, data collection, and analysis stages.
  • To develop strategies for impact for Japanese and UK SSH researchers in the area of DSS where research outcomes reach beyond the academic community to influence, and be used by, other stakeholders.
  • To scope a longitudinal research project that would take place in the lead up to, during and for at least four years after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games around the social impact of DPS, and to collaboratively write a larger funding application that resources this work.

UK phase of project

Following an initial planning phase, the first key part of the project was when five Japanese participants came to the UK in March 2019. This consisted of two days visiting Coventry University, where the focus was on more academic and theoretical aspects of disability studies and sport (DSS), This was followed by two days at the University of Worcester, where the focus was more on the practical and applied aspects of DSS. The visit was then rounded off with a visit to Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual home of the Paralympic Games and disability sport. Activities in each of these venues were as follows:

Coventry: In addition to each of the eleven participants doing a twenty-minute presentation to the rest of the group on their own area of expertise, there were invited presentations by three of Dr Brittain’s PhD students, as well as by Nick Fuller (Executive Chair of EdComs and former Head of Education for London 2012) on “Lessons learned from London 2012 regarding evaluating Paralympic impact and legacies” and Elliott Johnson (Activity Alliance) on “Driving change in sport and active recreation with disabled people.”

Worcester: The emphasis in Worcester was much more on applied and practical work with disabled people and included visits to Worcester Snoezelen, a multi-sensory environment for disabled people; a visit to New College Worcester, an independent boarding and day school for students, aged 11–19, who are blind or partially sighted and a practical sports for disabled people session run by staff and students from the University of Worcester for the local community. In addition there were presentations by staff and students from the specialist Bachelor degree in Sports Management (Disability Sport) that is run at Worcester.

Stoke Mandeville: The group were fortunate that the week the Japanese came to the UK coincided with the opening of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust Paralympic Museum at Stoke Mandeville. Dr Brittain had been assisting the NPHT with the museum contents and so was able to get invitations for all the participants to attend the official opening, which was performed by Sir Philip Craven and Eva Loeffler, Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s daughter. Our group were given a private tour of the museum prior to its opening.

Group of 11 researchers gather for photo.

First day in Coventry.

7 delegates stand outside Stoke Mandeviile Stadium.

Visit to Stoke Mandeville.

Japan phase of project

The second key phase of the project was the visit of the UK participants to Tokyo, which occurred in June 2019. The main reason for this visit was to continue discussions we had already started over email regarding the larger grant application to follow on from the connections grant and to consolidate these plans for presentation at the open symposium to be held on the Friday. The visit also allowed the UK participants who had not been before to get a feel for the city of Tokyo and the Japanese culture that would be very useful to them should the larger grant application be successful. The Monday, Wednesday and Thursday were therefore, spent in discussion in order to plan our outline of the project to be presented on the Friday. The other two days (Tuesday and Friday) where spent as follows:

Tuesday: We were invited, through contacts from Tokyo Metropolitan Government who had visited me in Coventry in 2018 to learn more about Paralympic legacy, to take part in an Olympic and Paralympic venues tour of Tokyo including the Rowing and Kayak venue, the Ariake Arena and the athletes village. We were also fortunate to be invited to a very nice dinner on the Tuesday evening hosted by the Chairman of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group where we were joined by Maki Kobayashi-Terada, the Communications Director from Tokyo 2020 and Ichiro Kuronuma, Director of the Office for Para Sports Promotion within the Japan Sports Agency.

Friday: The Friday was a key day in this visit and was split in to two parts, both parts being held at the House of Councillors (the Japanese equivalent of the House of Lords), which Dr Brittain had managed to get access to thanks to his connections at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

Morning – Policy Forum: This was by invitation only and was attended by nineteen participants including the former Vice Governor of Tokyo (and University Professor), a Tokyo Metropolitan Assemblyman, the Chairman of Disabled Persons International – Japan, the Paralympic Games Integration Director for Tokyo 2020, as well as representatives of the Japan Sports Council and the Sasakawa Sports Foundation. The group discussed five key questions pertaining to sport for disabled people in Japan as well as the situation in general of disabled people in Japan.

Afternoon – Open Symposium: In the afternoon we held an open and free to attend symposium in the same venue. This was attended by thirty-five participants, including a number of Japanese academics and representatives from seven different news organisations. The research team presented the plans we had formulated and then we had an open discussion about the plans, including suggestions from the audience regarding how the plans could potentially be improved.

Both the morning and afternoon sessions applied simultaneous translation to ensure understanding and the company providing the translation service then provided me with digital recordings at the end of both the Japanese and English channels. Once back in the UK I had the English version transcribed and this was used to prepare the Policy Forum Report and in the writing process for the larger grant application.

Two males working together on whiteboard.

Planning meetings in Tokyo.

Public forum in Tokyo.

Public forum in Tokyo.


There are five key outputs from this project:

Policy Forum Report (English and Japanese): This includes a synopsis of the discussions around each of the five questions debated as well as key recommendations and conclusions. It is freely available via the project website as well as being distributed via our contacts in Japan, including those who attended.

Research Guide (English and Japanese): One of the things we have long been aware of is the low level of interest amongst Japanese academics in carrying out research around sport for disabled people in Japan. Therefore, in collaboration with the Japanese academics who are our co-applicants on the larger grant we put together an easy to follow guide to working with disabled people that is freely available via the website.

Media Guide for Journalists reporting upon the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games (English and Japanese): Following discussions in Japan Dr Brittain and one of the Co-Investigators (Dr Pappous) were able to persuade Presidents of the International (Andrew Parsons) and the Japanese (Junichi Kawai) Paralympic Committees to write forewords for an updated version of a media guide Dr Pappous produced for Rio 2016. The Japanese Paralympic Committee also provided a large number of photographs for the guide which gives practical advice on how to most positively portray Paralympians at Tokyo 2020 in both text and image.

Short Film: We have produced a short film about the project that is available on the project website.

Project Website: All of the above outputs are available on the project website, as well as blogposts and reflective pieces by participants on the March and June phases of the project.

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