Sanfrecce fans have lobbied the city of Hiroshima for a football-specific facility
When I moved to Japan in 1994, the country had just 12 professional football clubs. Without a J.League team in my town, I began to support Sanfrecce Hiroshima, in part due to their attractive football but also because in that year, they won the first stage and became title contenders.
Another reason why I became attached to Sanfrecce is because I found it extremely meaningful that a city with as dramatic a history as Hiroshima had a football team. Like most foreigners, I used to associate the name of Hiroshima with the destruction of the atomic bombing. Thanks to Sanfrecce, I was able to see a completely new Hiroshima.
These reasons have not changed in 21 years, and today they are more relevant than ever. Sanfrecce are one of Asia’s best clubs, having claimed their third league title in four years on Saturday and represented Hiroshima and Japan in the AFC Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup.
Yet despite the success of the club, I feel that Hiroshima, as a city, can and must do more to promote its football team in order to boost the city’s image worldwide. Specifically, Sanfrecce Hiroshima need a new stadium.
I have many fond memories of the Big Arch (now known as Edion Stadium), but it is an old and inconveniently located structure, in which spectators can barely see the action at the other end of the pitch.
It is quite clear that a team with Sanfrecce’s achievements deserve a top-class football-specific stadium, and with the location of the old Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, located across from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, it is shocking that the city is not proceeding with construction.
The proposed venue would be the only downtown stadium in Japan, becoming an amazing catalyst for the community and bringing Hiroshima into the spotlight at a global level not only as a city of peace, but also as a city of sport.
The convenient location would make the stadium perfect not only for Sanfrecce, but also as a host for national team games, international youth tournaments, rugby, and other events such as concerts, surely providing a boost to local businesses in the downtown area.
In 2014, Hisato Sato’s incredible goal against Kawasaki Frontale was nominated for the Puskas Award. The short clip traveled the world, bringing with it the reality of football in Hiroshima. Behind the action on the pitch stood a wall of old and empty concrete stands, a 20th-century relic starkly contrasting Sanfrecce’s modern style.
But football has become a global phenomenon, involving not only sport and communities, but also business and politics. The rich and famous, and even governments such as Qatar, are investing into football in order to promote their image.
With Sanfrecce’s success, Hiroshima has a huge chance to erase the stigma of 1945 and put the city onto the world map. The fact that the city council and local sponsors refuse to recognize this opportunity is, in the eyes of an international observer, appalling.
It may not be easy to build and maintain a new stadium, yet several clubs – including fellow J.League co-founders Gamba Osaka – have accomplished this in recent years. There are simply no excuses: with the team having finished first in three of the last four seasons, the city should be painted in purple.
Instead, most of the attention of local government and private business is directed toward the Hiroshima Carp, the city’s baseball team. While I do respect the Carp and understand the meaning they have for the people of Hiroshima, it is hard to accept that a team without a national title in 30 years are playing in a brand new stadium, while repeated J.League champions Sanfrecce are not.
While a city should support all of its teams, the reality is that while baseball might eventually give Hiroshima national acclaim should the Carp ever win a title, it is a sport played only in a few countries which will never have the global reach of football.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima have a very dedicated and competent staff, and tens of thousands of loyal supporters who have followed the club across Japan and Asia. Manager Hajime Moriyasu, star striker Hisato Sato, captain Toshihiro Aoyama, and veteran midfielder Mihael Mikic have all very likely turned down the chance to go elsewhere and earn more money in order to stay with the club they love, in the city they love.
It is about time that the Hiroshima political class and local sponsors begin to return the same love and dedication, and understand that in the 21st century there is no better way to promote a city globally than through a successful football club.