Many a sporting event in Japan has become casualty to the pandemic this year, leaving hard-working athletes feeling dejected and uncertain for their future prospects. Of them, it is arguably Japan’s high school competitors, particularly those in their final year, who have been affected the most by these developments, with both the annual spring and summer National High School Championships as well as the National Sports Festival of Japan (the “Kokutai”) in the early autumn having been cancelled. This has prompted teachers and coaches around the country to band together and find solutions to enable these promising athletes to be able to compete in tournaments, including inter-school competitions, in the midst of the health crisis.
A make-or-break decision was facing the organizers of the Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament in Japan. Men’s rhythmic gymnastics as a sport does not have a long history compared to its female counterpart, which has been a staple of the Olympics since the early 1980s, but few know it originated in Japan. At the time of writing, the number of competing male rhythmic gymnasts at the high school level stands at 1420, from some 100 different clubs in Japan, and this figure continues to rise. With the sport gaining popularity overseas in countries such as Russia, the USA, Germany and Indonesia, it is only a matter of time before it is accepted as an official category in the Olympics. But at this crucial juncture, the organizers realized that unless they found a way for the tournament, which is still small and reliant on external funding, to go ahead, the progress of the sport could be seriously impeded in the coming years.
This is where the established broadcaster TV-Asahi, and the LIVE-Link team here at CB Ltd, stepped in. CB itself is consulting firm but with strong ties to the world of competitive sports, acting as primary marketer for the National Figure Skating Championship as well as official agent of the world’s oldest international gymnastics tournament. CB set up LIVE-Link to help traditional TV broadcasters discover new and exciting possibilities in the world of live online media distribution. It so happened that TV-Asahi had produced a feature earlier in the year on the havoc the pandemic was wreaking on competitive sports and its hidden costs. As part of their coverage they had interviewed, among others, a number of heartbroken, budding male rhythmic gymnasts. CB caught wind of the story and after some discussion, it was decided that the two organizations would work to broadcast the tournament live at a series of venues around the country, to enable a socially-distanced environment that would have been impossible to maintain by bringing all the competitors to a single location. To everyone’s joy, the Japan Association of Gymnastics agreed to formally sponsor the tournament and the hard work to make it reality began.
For the qualifying rounds, each individual team was requested to send in a video of their performances according to rules decided upon in advance. The Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastics Committee then pored over the footage with an adapted scoring system to judge which teams would advance to the finals. In an online press conference, the Committee Chairman expressed how pleased they were to see a higher-than-expected number of entrants, and who held themselves to excellent standards, in spite of the circumstances.
The junior-to-middle school and high school division finals, due to take place later this month, will be broadcast live on YouTube and with the panel of judges watching and scoring via video also on a real-time basis.
Undoubtedly the primary challenge in such an endeavour is being able to deliver a consistently high quality of broadcast from multiple venues, each with its own differing—and not necessarily reliable—WiFi environment, to ensure fair and accurate scoring. LIVE-Link has been able to take advantage of newly-developed internet broadcasting technology used by TV stations to ensure a crystal-clear footage with minimal equipment. As for the scoring, the panel of judges will gather at the quiet studios of TV-Asahi before two rows of four 100-inch monitors, while the technical team at CB will be stationed in a separate control room in the same building, to be able to respond quickly to any unforeseen circumstances while allowing the committee to do their work.
And that’s not all! After the tournament concludes, we will be holding a “Men’s Rhythmic Gymnastic Super Exhibition” event to celebrate athletes of all ages, including those who did not make it through to the finals of the main tournament, also to be broadcast for everyone around the world to enjoy.
The Coronavirus crisis may have presented the sports world with a unique set of challenges, but ones not necessarily insurmountable: all it takes is passion, and human ingenuity!