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Posters for the Tokyo 1964 and 2020 Paralympic Games

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


ESRC-AHRC UK-Japan Social Sciences & Humanities Connections Grant

Value to Coventry University


Project team

Dr Ian Brittain, Dr Simon Gérard


University of Kent, UK; University of the West of Scotland, UK; University of Worcester, UK; Hokkaido College of Sports and Medicine, Japan; Juntendo University, Japan; Waseda University, Japan; Co-Innovation Laboratory, Japan; Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre, Japan

Duration of project

01/01/2019 - 31/03/2020

Project overview

The aim of this bid was to expand an already existing international collaboration and foster a long term sustainable multi-partner network in order to further develop our understanding in the field of disability studies and sport (DSS). This project brought together a network of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (SSH) researchers across the UK and Japan, including ECRs, who both strengthened and developed current relations. In 2021 Tokyo, Japan, will become the first city to host the Paralympic Games twice, having previously hosted them in 1964. This, therefore, provided an ideal opportunity to both meet the aims of this grant call, whilst at the same time improving our understanding of the field of DSS by furthering our cultural understandings of people with disabilities (PWD) using an interdisciplinary approach that adopted participative methodologies to foster co-creation of new knowledge in the field.

The researchers from the UK came from four universities: Coventry, Kent, West of Scotland and Worcester). The Japanese network members were drawn from three universities based in or around Tokyo: Juntendo, Tsukuba and Waseda, one academic institustion in the north of Japan: Hokkaido College of Sports and Medicine, as well as one publicly-funded non-academic research body: the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group. The Japanese group also included the founding Director of the Co-Innovation Laboratory (COIL) who acted as a stakeholder representative and a direct conduit to groups of PWD in Tokyo with whom COIL work towards achieving an inclusive society. Both the UK and Japanese networks included experienced and early career researchers as the project was designed to make this area of research sustainable over the long term by involving and developing the capacity of young researchers who will lead the field in the years to come. The two groups of researchers experienced a programme of knowledge exchange and collaborative research planning (in both the UK and Japan), assisted by other key stakeholders including PWD and policy makers in Japan, to which various members of the overall network already have access. This culminated in a planned longitudinal programme of collaborative research to take place before, during and up to four years after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games that formed the basis for a larger funding application, which was unfortunately unsuccessful.

As a baseline, the planned research programme for the larger bid aimed at investigating many of the claims made by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that are often repeated by Paralympic host city organising committees, regarding the potential social impact of sport and the Paralympic Games themselves upon the lives of PWD in the host country. These include: improved health, greater inclusion, better transport and infrastructure, environmental accessibility, enhanced support services and improved attitudes towards PWD amongst the non-disabled population. This would have been underpinned by a narrative analysis of the role of prejudice and normative values within Japanese society using ableism as a lens to see how disability is currently constructed and the impact hosting the Paralympic Games has on this narrative.

Project objectives

The project included the following objectives:

  • To create a network of Japanese and UK SSH researchers (experienced and early career) in the area of DPS, particularly with reference to its potential social impacts and to develop a programme of knowledge sharing in the field through collaborative discussion, sharing of knowledge and identification of training needs
  • To foster inter-disciplinary research between SSH researchers in Japan and the UK in the area of 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 people with disabilities.
  • To co-create a series of interdisciplinary methodologies to study the area of DPS, including a focus on more participatory research methodologies and methods, 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 DPS where research outcomes reach beyond the academic community to influence, and be used by, other researcher users.
  • To increase UK and Japanese SSH researchers’ awareness and knowledge of the importance of cultural context in research, contextualising the differences and commonalities in each country in how DPS is constituted, historically and in the present time.
  • To scope a longitudinal research project that would take place in the lead up to, during and for at least three years after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games around the social impact of DPS, and to collaboratively write a larger funding application resources this work.

In creating an interdisciplinary network of experienced and early career researchers developing, collaboratively, suitable theories, methodologies and impact activities that recognise differential cultural contexts, the proposed project will address a number of key questions pertaining to DPS:

  1. What evidence exists in the UK and Japan for the effective leveraging of major parasport events (i.e. the Paralympic Games) to produce beneficial outcomes for PWD in both countries and how can this evidence be share more effectively?
  2. What can an interdisciplinary approach contribute to understanding of how major parasport events can be used to improve health, increase participation, enhance transport infrastructure and develop the sport system in both Japan and the UK?
  3. How can PWD be more effectively involved as participants and end users of research into the value of major parasport events in enhancing the lived experiences of PWD, and at what stages?
  4. How can the outputs of research into major parasport events and social outcomes be most effectively translated into policy interventions, and with what impact?
  5. How can the importance of differential cultural contexts be captured and translated into more effective research approaches and policy outcomes?
  • Alongside the academic beneficiaries detailed in the preceding sections, this project also foregrounded the involvement of non-academic stakeholders to ensure that its outputs and outcomes reach beyond the Academy. This impact was achieved through three main interventions:

    i) in order to address our objective around involving people with disabilities (PWD) more meaningfully in this research, we invited PWD and organisations that represent them to participate in both the UK and Japan exchange visit activities. In the UK, Disabled Person's Organisations and representatives from disability sport institutions (e.g. Activity Alliance) joined the planned meetings on the second day in Coventry in order to add to the practical and theoretical knowledge exchange. The first day in Coventry was an opportunity for the network members to get to know each other and share their own knowledge and experiences. In Japan, other key individuals were invited to participate in the policy forum including PWD and their advocates, representatives from disability sport clubs and representatives from the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (TMA), including Assembly member Yoshihiro Hayasaka who is part of a team of TMA and local government officials who have been visiting different host countries gathering information on Games legacy. This group, led by the former Vice Governor of Tokyo, Prof Yasushi Aoyama, visited Dr Brittain in Coventry in August to find out more about the impact of the Paralympic Games. Another key individual to be invited was Shinji Nakamae, Paralympic Games Integration Director for Tokyo 2020, who presented at Dr Brittain's international disability sport conference held in Coventry in September 2018. Their input was captured in the briefing paper and policy report published after the policy forum;

    ii) we sought to generate reach and significance for this project through utilising our project website and social media platforms strategically. Throughout the 12 month project we published guest blog posts from individuals such as those named above (Hayasaka; Aoyama; Nakamae) as well as PWD in Japan and the UK, updates on Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games planning, and sought to disseminate these widely through academic/non-academic networks via the project website and other social media. Co-I Prof McGillivray has extensive experience of designing and delivering participatory digital research projects that contribute to the impact agenda. To enhance accessibility to audiences outside of academia, the project website included a blogging space and integrated social media platforms. This website was crucial in communication and dialogue across academic, industry, policy and community actors engaged in the project. A short film was also produced from the UK and Japan exchange visits and this was used to promote the wider network and its focus on securing positive benefits from hosting the Paralympic Games;

    iii) the academic partners liaised with non-academic stakeholders to produce a short guide to undertaking research with PWD, informed by the experiences of both Japanese and UK researchers. This guide was made available (in both English and Japanese) in open access form and addresses the objective to develop more participatory methodologies, especially focused on the involvement of PWD in research. As Parent (2016) has suggested, it is important that the voices and experiences of PWD are heard and it is important "not to go beyond disability, as is too frequently proposed, but to go-along with disability and disabled people" (p.530).

  • This twelve-month project was mainly conceived to enhance capacity building, networking, awareness raising and knowledge exchange, but it was also important that clearly defined outputs were also delivered. The outputs from this project are:

    • A strong and sustainable network of SSH researchers from both the UK and Japan focused on DPS as well as a growing and sustainable interest in the field amongst Japanese SSH researchers. This is evidenced by participation in the field visits and contributions to the virtual network.
    • Greater inclusion of PWD in the project from the outset. This included involvement in the formulation of the briefing paper and participation in the policy forum in Japan, and contributions to knowledge sharing in the UK. The policy forum report in both English and Japanese language is published here.
    • A guide to undertaking research with PWD and DPS. This guide is available open access and published here.
    • A short film documenting the knowledge exchange activities undertaken over the twelve month period.
    • A virtual network, represented by a project website with contributions from all academic beneficiaries and non-academic stakeholders (in the form of guest blog posts).
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