Japan is set to be at the centre of the sporting world for the next several years, but disabled athletes are still likely to struggle to attract exposure. In an initiative to help raise the profile of para sports, the Japan Para Table Tennis Association (JPTTA) aims to convey what it’s like to compete as a disabled player.
According to TBWA Hakuhodo, which worked on the project, just 1% of the population watch para sports. It attributes this to a failure to appreciate the challenges the athletes face and their outstanding talent and skill.
The ‘Para Ping Pong Table’ is part of a rebranding exercise for the JPTTA that also aims to help people understand what it’s like to be in the athletes’ position. It features a range of tables shaped to demonstrate the problems different players from the Japanese national team have to deal with when playing.
An ankle impairment means one side of the table seems longer than the other; shortened arms make it difficult to reach most areas of the court; playing in a wheelchair likewise makes the ball seem unattainable in certain areas.
Commercial facilities and schools can rent the tables, which are displayed on the JPTTA’s new website. Live events have also drawn attention to them. Last month, para player Tsuyoshi Watanabe played pupils at an elementary school; and Masaharu Yoshimura, an able-bodied Olympic player, took on para player Koyo Iwabuchi at ParaFes 2018 (an event organised by The Nippon Foundation's Paralympic Support Centre), using Iwabuchi’s own table. While Yoshimura won, he said it was not easy and that the experience reinforced his respect for his opponent.
A spokesperson for TBWA said a further event is scheduled at an undisclosed commercial location in Tokyo towards the end of next month. The spokesperson said physical displays, events and video footage were important as a means of attracting the attention of people who would not naturally think of watching para sports.
Campaign’s view: The work is imaginative and shows humanity, and consequently conveys a strong, tangible message. It’s likely that the agency is hoping to benefit from it on the awards circuit, but that does nothing to weaken its importance. The challenge will be ensuring that the tables and matches do appear in front of a new audience. An ongoing effort will be needed to put them in the public eye in unexpected locations.