Olympic hopeful Sakakibara to ignite Olympic excitement with Australian and Japanese students




Outback Australia meets Osaka Japan later this morning when students from Alice Springs are beamed into Japanese classrooms in a ground-breaking pilot program known as Australian Olympic Connect.


Aspiring Olympic BMX rider Saya Sakakibara will mark the final week of the pilot when she joins the video call, building excitement for students in both countries ahead of next year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.


The Japanese-born and Australian-raised Sakakibara, who is looking to make her Olympic debut next year, will share her Tokyo Olympic journey and hear from students about how they have connected with each other’s culture through Australian Olympic Connect.


More than 1500 students from 40 schools right across Australia and Japan have shared their experiences, culture and anticipation for the Tokyo Olympics from August to October, with Saya’s virtual visit capping off the final week of the three-month pilot program.


The program marks the first time in the world a National Olympic Committee has connected students with those in the host country ahead of an Olympic Games.


Twenty schools from each country were paired together and have shared video calls, class projects and ongoing conversations over the last three months. With the successful completion of the pilot program, planning is underway for an extended rollout in 2021 ahead of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.


AOC CEO Matt Carroll said the program exemplified the power of the Olympics to bring people together, bridging cultures and promoting communication and understanding through sport.


“I’m excited to see Australian Olympic Connect bring students from Japan and Australia together to experience the Olympic spirit,” Mr Carroll said. “Learning about other cultures, and sharing experiences is central to the Olympic movement.


“Providing an opportunity for genuine cultural exchange across countries for young Australians is so valuable. Feedback from teachers and students participating in the program has been fantastic.


“Having aspiring Olympian Saya join the video call with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic College in Alice Springs and Mino Jiyu Gakuen in Osaka today is the perfect way to demonstrate the great friendship and Olympic connection between Australia and Japan.


“Thank you to the Australian Embassy in Japan, the Japanese Embassy in Australia, the Consulate-General Network and the Japanese Language Teachers Association in Australia for helping bring the program to life. I look forward to seeing Australian Olympic Connect extended to more schools in Australia and Japan ahead of the Tokyo Games next year.”


Twenty-one-year-old Sakakibara was thrilled to join students from Osaka and Alice Springs.


“I love that the Olympics is bringing Japanese and Australian students closer,” Sakakibara said. “It doesn’t matter if you speak a different language or have a different background, sport is a common ground – it can bring us all together.


“Being able to connect with people from a different background and language is such an amazing opportunity. To make those bonds at a young age to learn from and open your mind to different cultures is so valuable.


“My Japanese heritage is such a big part of my identity and it’s great to be able to share the excitement for the Tokyo Olympics next year with the students today.”


Operating under the tagline “Tomodachi 2020” which translates as ‘Friendship 2020”, the program has focused on building lasting friendships and relationships between Japan and Australia.


Consul-General of Japan in Sydney Kiya Masahiko welcomed the success of the pilot program.


“Given the current difficulty travelling overseas due to COVID-19, this program is especially meaningful, because it provides valuable opportunities, inspired by the Olympics, for online exchange between schools.”


“I feel that there is further potential for online exchange between Japan and Australia, in particular, due to the small time difference between us.


“I hope that the students who participated in Tomodachi 2020 will be bridges between our two countries in the future and that the school-to-school exchange born of this wonderful project will continue and develop even after the Olympics.”