Is Fumiaki Tanaka a game-changer for relations between NZ and Japan?

New Zealand and Japan are two countries that most people would not usually consider as having the potential for strong sporting relations, but it’s time to think again. With the 2019 Rugby World Cup being held in Japan and the exchanges of top level athletes, the opportunities for sporting ties between our two nations has never been higher.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup being held in Japan is a huge opportunity, not only for Japan, but for New Zealand. With the recognition that Auckland and New Zealand have received for the successful hosting of the 2011 World Cup, Japan will undoubtedly be knocking on the door for assistance throughout the process.

Sports management firm CSM Sport and Entertainment is one firm already embracing the connection between Japan and New Zealand. CSM were responsible for bring Fumiaki Tanaka to New Zealand, the Japanese half back who has signed with the Highlanders for 2013 off the back of a successful domestic campaign.

Bringing Tanaka to New Zealand not only opens up a great opportunity for Tanaka and Japanese rugby, but also for New Zealand. Tanaka’s inclusion has made headlines world-wide and will put Super Rugby in the spotlight in Japan. The additional exposure created has the opportunity to play dividends for players on both sides.

It is hoped that more Japanese players will be able to follow in the footsteps on Tanaka in coming to New Zealand. Kiwi players are already in hot demand in Japan and their profile can only be expected to increase in the lead up to 2019.

New Zealand business can also leverage this opportunity. We’ve already seen the success of Stephen Fleming accompanying the Prime Minister as an ambassador on his trip to India and Richie McCaw becoming  the face of Fonterra. With our athletes becoming more recognizable overseas,  their endorsements lend huge credibility to New Zealand companies operating overseas.

New Zealand needs to leverage the opportunities presented through rugby in much the same way they have with the Lord of the Rings franchise. Sport has always been a great driver of relationships between nations, it’s time to use rugby as the catalyst for stronger ties to Japan.

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