Empowering Future Sports Leaders and Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake: TOMODACHI – U.S. Embassy Go for Gold Sports Leadership Program Concludes U.S. Trip in New York

Against the backdrop of remembrance and celebration, the TOMODACHI – U.S. Embassy Go for Gold Sports Leadership Program wrapped up the trip to the United States with an evening reception in New York on March 11, marking another milestone in the collaborative efforts to foster leadership in the sports industry among Japanese youth. 

Hosted by the U.S.-Japan Council, this two-week program commenced its first leg in Los Angeles, from February 27 to March 5, before moving to New York for the second week, and then culminating with the final presentations back in Tokyo on March 15, 2024. This program aims to increase the understanding and knowledge of the sports industry in the United States, with a focus on facility management, community engagement and business of sports management among Japanese youth. The goal of the program is to encourage participants to be global leaders in their respective fields and utilize their knowledge acquired in the United States to advance the sports industry in Japan and promote the importance of collaboration between the two countries. 

In an immersive week in New York, organized in partnership with LeadOff Sports, ten Japanese college students embarked on a deep dive into sports management’s multifaceted world. Their journey spanned significant industry pillars—from the strategic expertise at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) that manages Shohei Ohtani’s contracts, to the academic insights of collegiate sports at St. John’s University. Their exploration extended to pivotal meetings with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and Major League Soccer (MLS), providing a broad perspective on professional sports operations. A session with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) offered a closer look at athlete representation, while attending a New York Knicks game and hearing from Assistant Coach Dice Yoshimoto enriched their understanding with practical insights into professional basketball.

Tak Mihara, Executive Vice President of LeadOff Sports, emphasized the importance of nurturing the next generation of sports leaders. The program highlighted the power of sports in driving societal change and nurturing global leaders. This experience not only equipped the delegates with knowledge but also inspired them to harness sports as a tool for positive community impact.

March 11, 2011, marked a pivotal moment in Japan’s history, as the nation grappled with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami. Amidst the somber reflections, the TOMODACHI program paid tribute to the transformative potential of sports in inspiring hope and resilience in times of adversity. 

Susan Morita, Co-Chair of the U.S.-Japan Council Board of Directors, shared her experience being in Tokyo on the U.S.-Japan Council Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD) with late founder Irene Hirano Inouye when the earthquake struck. She also talked about the history and creation of the TOMODACHI Initiative as a private-partnership between the U.S. Embassy and the U.S.-Japan Council that came out in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. 

A panel discussion followed, highlighting three TOMODACHI participants and alumni as they shared their experiences from the Great East Japan Earthquake and the profound impact of sports as a catalyst for leadership, resilience and hope. 

  • Yasuto Ito, a current participant in the TOMODACHI – U.S. Embassy Go for Gold Sports Leadership Program, hails from Iwaki, Fukushima. A student of health and sport science at Toyo University, Yasuto embodies the drive to leverage sports for societal upliftment, particularly in regions recovering from disaster.
  • Court Honda, a business development associate at LeadOff Sports and a two-time U.S.-Japan Council Watanabe Scholarship Program alum, experienced the earthquake in Morioka, Iwate. Transitioning from a tennis player symbolizing regional hope to a professional in sports management, Court exemplifies resilience and the power of dreams.
  • Sarah O’Connell, a TOMODACHI Daiwa House Student Leadership Conference and Disaster Resilience Leadership Program alumna, serves as the TOMODACHI Alumni Regional Representative for the New York Region. Her work at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations and her experiences in Sendai and on the JET program spotlight the essential role of global collaboration and community resilience.

Their stories highlighted the transformative power of sports and the role it plays in fostering hope and rebuilding communities. This conversation served as a powerful reminder of the ability of sports to transcend boundaries, inspiring unity and perseverance in the face of adversity.

As participants and guests departed, they carried with them a newfound appreciation for the role of sports in shaping lives and fostering connections. Through collaboration and shared purpose, they vowed to continue harnessing the power of people-to-people connections to inspire hope and resilience, not just in times of adversity, but in every aspect of life.

For more information about the TOMODACHI – U.S. Embassy Go for Gold Sports Leadership Program, click here. Photos can be viewed here