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Japanese play friendlies vs NMI players

College students from the University Network for Global Leadership Development are back on Saipan and will be battling NMI players in a series of friendlies.

UNGL is an organization made up of 20 universities in western Japan with members collaborating to plan and implement training programs in their country and abroad to develop university students’ leadership and related skills, knowledge, and mindsets.

The visiting Japanese group and NMI players and coaches gather for a group photo after their friendly matches. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

The friendlies against NMI’s girls U17 and co-ed U14 players on March 6 at the NMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville is part of the visiting group’s nearly week-long activities on Saipan. Twenty-five students and eight faculty members from three universities (Ehime University, Okayama University of Science, and Kyoto University of Foreign Studies) will take part in this year’s program that will run from March 5 to 10.

The Marianas Visitors Authority welcomed the visiting group and reiterated the importance of sports tourism in the NMI.

“Sports tourism is an important niche market that the MVA targets, as the beautiful scenery of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are suitable year-round for the many athletic events that we organize or support. In particular, the publicity and promotion involving international athletes and teams in The Marianas help us gain worldwide media coverage in a cost-efficient manner. These athletes also include the many golfers and divers who favor our destination. Sports tourism contributes to our economy and provides opportunities for residents to participate in or volunteer for these events, as well as have intercultural exchange with our visitors,” MVA acting managing director Judy Torres said.

Students from UNGL are returning to Saipan after not making the trip to the island in the last two years due to the pandemic. They flew through a direct flight service from Japan, which was made available again in September last year—a key step in revitalizing the Japan market. Direct flights between Saipan and Japan paved the way for numerous Japanese pro teams to hold training camps on the island before with several squads staying for nearly a month. Students, like those under the UNGL program, also had frequent visits to Saipan when direct flights were made available.

“While this will be the first trip to Saipan for most of the students, the UNGL Leadership Challenge on Saipan program itself is in its 11th iteration (including two online exchanges during the pandemic), beginning in 2014. The last time we visited Saipan for this program was in February 2020,” professor Keiji Hata said.

The students from UNGL also participated in a series of friendlies against NMI players during their 2020 visit before pandemic hit and prevented them from returning to Saipan. The Japanese are the first batch of tourists that will engage in sports activities in the islands this year. In June, NMI’s sports tourism is expected to get a boost with the arrival of athletes that will compete in two badminton Olympic qualifiers and two Oceania region athletics meets

Hata said that the group is excited to play against the NMI’s select players and gauge the hosts’ skill level. He added that besides the friendlies, the Japanese students will participate in other programs with the different schools in the islands. They will spend time at DanDan Middle School, San Vicente Elementary School, Francisco M. Sablan Middle School, William S. Reyes Elementary School, and the Gregorio T. Camacho Elementary School.

Hata believes UNGL’s sports activities and other parts of the program will help strengthen the ties between the NMI and Japan.

“We hope that the students will learn that the relationship between the NMI and Japan today was built by our predecessors, and therefore, the actions they take now will directly lead to the relationship between the NMI and Japan in the next generation. We hope that this will help to further strengthen the relationship between the two.

Meanwhile, Northern Marianas Islands Football Association technical director Michiteru Mita is pleased that UNGL has decided to return to Saipan and have friendlies as part of their program.

“Every time we get a chance to play against off-island teams/group is a great opportunity for our players to see how far they have come as far as their training or preparations for competitions are concerned. They can experience competing against teams outside Saipan and see the difference in playing style, skill level, and team strategy,” Mita said.

In March 2018, UNGL also brought more than 20 students to square off against the NMI Boys U15 National Team training pool at the Hopwood Middle School Field.

Mita added that having appropriate facilities allows the NMIFA to host teams and he hopes to see more groups visiting the islands not just to challenge the home squad but to support sports tourism in the NMI. In December last, the MVA inked a one-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Korean Professional Baseball Players Association to pave the way for the association’s members to have activities in the NMI. The Korean pros played golf on the island and also conducted a baseball clinic at the Francisco “Tan Ko” Palacios Baseball Field. (PR)

Published by Saipan Tribune - Mar 06 2023


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