The Unified Floorball competition was held for the first time at the Special Olympics Nippon National Games in Nagano, Japan on 18th — 19th November 2023.
Floorball, which is still not well known in Japan, has managed to hold a National Games in just two years after the project began. Since Special Olympics International (SOI) and IFF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2011 and floorball was first adopted as an official sport at the last Special Olympics Winter World Games (Austria, 2017), Special Olympics (SO) around the world have become interested in floorball. For this reason, Special Olympics Nippon was also considering introducing the sport.
In 2019, Tatsuro Tajima and Yui Takahashi (T3 FLOORBALL PROJECT), who are promoting floorball in Japan, visited Special Olympics Nippon (SON) to exchange views on the possibility of introducing floorball in Japan. In 2021, SON decided to start a floorball program, and T3 FLOORBALL PROJECT took on the role to lead both lecture and practical skill clinics, to increase the number of coaches in each region.
Prior to the National Games, Japan Floorball Federation (JFF) and SON signed a MOU in December 2022. Under this agreement, JFF promised to provide SON with support for the operation of floorball competitions and other assistance.
In August 2023, Yui Takahashi, a member of the IFF Athletes’ Commission, returned to Japan to work full-time for Special Olympics Nippon. Takahashi has also played floorball in Sweden for several seasons. In addition to her mission to organize the National Games, Takahashi is also in charge of the “Unified School,” which is mainly for elementary school students to learn about a symbiotic society through learning about SO and trying out Unified Floorball, drawing on her experience working as a teacher in both Japan and Sweden.
Commenting on her decision, Takahashi said, “I couldn’t be prouder that floorball, a sport that I have spent so much time and money on, would become a way for Japanese children to learn about a symbiotic society. I never imagined that floorball would become a full-time job in a country like Japan, where floorball is underdeveloped, and I thought it would be a job which I could use my knowledge (both of floorball and education) to the fullest. I knew that if I turned down this offer, I would definitely regret it, so I decided to end my challenge in Sweden as a floorball player and go back to Japan after 12 years.”
In November 2023, SON, T3, and JFF collaborated to hold the first Special Olympics Nippon National Games, a Unified Floorball competition at the White Ring, the venue used for the Olympic Games in Nagano in 1998. Unified SportsⓇ is a unique initiative of the SO in which people with intellectual disabilities and people without intellectual disabilities become teammates and play sports together. Six teams participated in the team competition and 10 athletes took part in the individual skill competition from all over Japan. Many great games were played over the two days. One team came from a completely new level of floorball experience to participate in the national games with just one year preparation.
Takahashi says that floorball suits the Special Olympics because players need only few equipment to play, the sticks are light and easy to handle, and the referee actively communicates with the players.
“There were players and coaches who had been playing floorball for less than a year at this competition. The National Games was also an opportunity for them to learn the correct rules of floorball. Some sports make it difficult for referees and players to communicate with each other during a game, but floorball is different. Thanks to the JFF sending top level referees in Japan and the referees understanding the significance of the event, they were able to communicate with the players and coaches, so I think it was a great learning experience about floorball for everyone who participated.”
A whole class from an elementary school that Takahashi visited as Unified School came to the event and presented an exhibition match.
“We instantly rebuilt the court to a smaller size, and the match was played with mini-goals that were also used at the school. I think we were able to show that anyone can participate in floorball, even elementary school students, with or without disabilities.”
The event, which was a great success, was later featured on the front page of the Tokyo Shimbun, the largest local newspaper in Tokyo.
“This is FairFloorball! It would be great if we could build a relationship like the one between SON and JFF in other countries in near future. This would make floorball more popular and bigger. ” Takahashi concludes.
Photos by Special Olympics Nippon