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LONDON/BANGKOK: Japan may not have much of a reputation on the international stage when it comes to cricket, but the man tasked with changing that told Arab News he is optimistic that the sport has a bright future in the country.

Alan Curr, head of operations at the Japanese Cricket Association, was speaking after Japan’s men’s team just missed out on qualifying for the ACC Premier Cup in Oman in April following defeat to Saudi Arabia in the semi-final on Friday.

He told Arab News that there was talent in Japan waiting to burst on the scene, and the JCA’s recent readmission to the Asian Cricket Council would help nurture the next generation of cricketers in the country.

“The game has moved on a lot in the 10 years that I’ve been in Japan, and even before then. Certainly, coming back into the ACC is giving us a lot more opportunities,” Curr said. “This is our first senior men’s competition for more than 20 years, our women play on Saturday in an ACC event, and our U-19s qualified for the Asia Cup last year. So, hopefully that junior program, and the success they’ve had, gives you a bit of an idea of the talent we have coming through and the strength of the team.”

While there are some cricket clubs in Japan, Curr said JCA programs have been vital in introducing the Japanese youth to a sport to which they might otherwise not be exposed.

“There are clubs doing some good work in Japan trying to recruit youngsters. But we, at the JCA, run a lot of our own programs,” he said. “We have a ‘Cricket Blast’ program, which is an under-12 competition that’s a mix of training and games — an introductory platform for people. And we’ve actually made some progress with getting cricket into the schools; we have it in the curriculum in a couple of small cities where we’ve worked closely with local governments, but once we get it into the national curriculum, that could be a real game-changer for us.”

Having cricket included as an Olympic sport will also have a huge impact on getting eyes on the sport in Japan and, crucially, the necessary funding for it to develop, according to Curr.

“The Olympic inclusion has been big news for us and has certainly put the game in front of more people already and, hopefully, will help with an increase in funding. And that will enable us to just do more things,” he said. “Even though we’re in the Games for Los Angeles in 2028, that’s still just a one-off Games at the moment. So, the next step is to get cricket as a permanent Olympic sport. But at least we get five years of opening up access to some funding.

“The hope is that Brisbane 2032 will keep cricket and then there are rumors swirling that the Olympics after that will be in India. So, if that happens, cricket would stay in too. You could suddenly be looking at 12 or 13 years of cricket as an Olympic sport, (which means) you get taken a bit more seriously by the mainstream in Japan.”

While Curr is grateful for outside support, particularly from authorities in established cricketing nations such as Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka, part of his remit at the JCA is to develop homegrown coaches, who can converse in Japanese.

“Our head coach, Dhugal Bedingfield, is Australian, but he’s been in Japan as long as I have; he’s done 10 years, and he speaks much better Japanese than I do. We make sure that we’re delivering in Japanese as much as possible to the boys and they speak Japanese in the field,” he said.

“It’s very much a work in progress, to try and develop more community coaches. We sent two to Vanuatu late last year to do the ICC Level Two coaching course and we want to be getting more coaches of that level in our programs.

“We still have relationships with people overseas. The Titans in South Africa have recently become partners, we’re working on an MoU with Sri Lanka Cricket, and Cricket Victoria in Australia have supported us for a long time and they often send coaches over. But for the game to really thrive, we need more community coaches of our own.”

Curr is particularly proud of the development of the women’s game in Japan. He said the JCA has focused on a “skills transfer” approach with girls and young women who have played softball, baseball or even tennis.

“We’re able to send a full-strength team out to (this weekend’s) tournament, which we weren’t able to do the last two times,” he said. “So we’re hopeful that we can get a few wins and start moving the women’s team’s ranking up. This will be the (Japanese) women’s first ACC event, and there are fewer teams playing, so it’ll be good to have a chance to see how we compete.”

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