The first World Cup for powerchair football was held in Tokyo, Japan, from October 7th through 14th, 2007. The generosity of our hosts, the Japanese Powerchair Football Association, was evident in every aspect of this incredible experience. Seven teams were represented in this first ever international competition: Japan, France, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, England, and the United States. Canada brought a delegation and Korea sent representatives as well. Our first impression of Japan was perfectly presented by our most awesome host, Rinko – our guide, our cultural advisor, and our source of all information any of us might need prior to and during our stay. Between her and the trove of smiling and very helpful volunteers, we were never lost and never had any concerns. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by beautiful volunteers in bright orange jackets – even when we ventured into the heart of Tokyo!

All delegations stayed at the Mitsui Garden Hotel Prana, a beautiful new hotel in Tokyo Bay. The grounds were beautiful, the breakfast buffet was immense, and the rooms were very modern and generally adequate for our diverse physical needs (this is a typical problem of travel when some of the wheelchairs are wider than bathroom doors). The hotel staff was very warm and friendly and understanding of all of the cultural differences that the eight delegations brought to them without lessening their high standards for thoughtfulness and politeness. By all players, coaches, and supporters being in one hotel, there was plenty of cross country socialization, creating new friendships, common understandings, and lasting relationships. Every evening, we clogged the hotel lobby with mingling mixed with laughter and light-hearted fun – a true indication of the priceless side effects of global amateur competition.

The games were held at the BumB Tokyo Sports-Bunka kan; a series of huge Quonset huts holding several gyms, outdoor football fields, a pool, music studios, and even an arboretum. Each team had practice times on closed courts and an area to keep equipment. The volunteers even hosted a wheel washing area for any dirty tires! The JPFA had also set aside an area for journalists and television crews to interview key players after each match.

On Tuesday, the opening ceremony was moving, solemn, and emotional as each team paraded into the gym to their National anthem. Officials from Japan spoke welcoming words and the ushered in the games. The competition began with three days of play allowing each team to play each of the others. Thursday was given up to relaxation and/or sightseeing for everyone. Some ventured into the heart of Tokyo, the Temple district, or took the high speed train to Mount Fuji. Some relaxed or shopped in the area around the hotel. Wherever we were, the people of Japan were very generous, friendly, and curious as to our sport. Transportation, usually a big issue at these types of events, was a breeze! Several accessible busses transported all to and from the BumB, accessible busses traveled between the nearby Tokyo Disney and other hotels, and the bus and train system was easily traversable. When using the subway system, the volunteers (in those great orange jackets) would tell the trainmen where we wanted to exit the train. We always knew where to exit as there was a trainperson there with a portable ramp to help us. If we were transferring, they walked us to the next train. If it wasn’t accessible, they happily carried people in their wheelchairs up and/or down the steps!

But back to the games! The play was exceptional. All teams came to play their best, as evidenced by the intensity of each game. Most of the scores were close and each competition was tense. Each team that played the Japanese found an overwhelming fan support for the home team as the volunteers (the group in the orange jackets) had changed into blue fan shirts and added to the already large fan base to cheer and chant wildly for their team. The competition intensified on Saturday as the semi-finals with US v. Belgium and France v. Japan began. Both games were well played and filled with excitement as France, in overtime, and the US were victorious. Belgium then defeated Japan in a triple overtime match complete with shootouts to place third. The championship match was filled with powerful and passionate action and tied 1 to 1 at the end of regulation as well as after two sudden death overtimes. The match in shootout mode offered many great saves and five goals for each side until the goalies faced off. The US goalie was able to sneak one by the very adept and skilled French goalie to win the first World Cup for powerchair football!

We will keep dear many additional memories from this week: the typical Japanese fair for lunch & dinner; exchanging shirts; the Sony gifts; the closing banquet where everyone was awarded medals and all were honored; the smiley face/soccer ball logo to symbolize the smiles of the athletes and the earth as a large soccer community; and the official song « Sky High ».

Most of all, we will remember not only the high level of competition during the games, but the camaraderie and the creation of lasting friendships that will traverse the world’s arbitrary national borders and continue to forge a lasting aura of peace through sport. Thank you Japan! And thank you FIPFA!

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