Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pressure Building Online for Neko to "Get Out of the Olympics"

http://www.j-cast.com/2012/04/02127558.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Click here to let Hiroshi Neko know how you feel about his Olympic plans directly.


Having secured a place on the Cambodian Olympic team in the men's marathon following a transfer of nationality in November, voices have begun to speak out online against comedian Hiroshi Neko, 34, calling for him to "get out of the Olympics."  There are plenty of examples of athletes changing nationality, but Neko is not that quality of a marathoner and his naming to the Cambodian team "steals" a place from an actual Cambodian athlete, so talk calling the whole thing a disgrace and asking what exactly Cambodia stands to benefit has begun to circulate.

Neko has been running seriously for four years.  On Feb. 5 he finished 50th at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, taking seven minutes off his best time to set a new PB of 2:30:26.  With zero Cambodian track and field athletes having cleared the Olympic qualifying standards the door was open for Neko to be chosen for the single men's "special exemption" ticket available to Cambodia.  He was chosen on that basis.  He plans to remain based in Japan for training until the Olympics and to continue with his career as a comedian, travelling to Cambodia for races when the need arises.

Neko held a press conference in Tokyo on Mar. 26 to announce his nomination to the Olympic team.  At the conference he declared, "I'll stay a comedian all the way until I'm standing on the Olympic starting line."  He said he plans to start the race with his characteristic "Meow!" gag for the cameras and has the best stunt of his career planned for the finish line.  His place on the Olympic team won't be officially ratified by the Cambodian Olympic Committee until mid-April, but momentum to "Get Hiroshi Neko out of the Olympics" has already begun build up online over suspicions about what is underlying this drive to go as far as permitting a transfer of nationality in order to put someone not qualified to be in the Olympics into the race.  Other voices are calling for a "former" Japanese national not to bring disgrace to the nation of Cambodia. Among the criticisms to have appeared online:
"There is no reason to pick Hiroshi Neko.  None at all."

"If he's on the Cambodian Olympic team then he should get out of Japan and go live in Cambodia and show some support for his new country."

"The problems with this are that it's all a publicity stunt, it's obvious that there is money changing hands, it's a theft of an Olympic place on another country's team, and doing gags and comedy routines at an important sports event like the Olympics is a declaration of contempt for it and the other athletes."
Opposition to Neko appearing in the Olympics is not limited to the online world, however.  Two-time Olympic marathon medalist Yuko Arimori, 45, whose charity is deeply involved in supporting Cambodia and Cambodian athletes, including bringing top Cambodian marathoners to compete in Japanese races, was very critical in a recent interview in a major newspaper, saying
"There are Cambodian athletes working hard right now to qualify for the Olympic team and I really wanted them to make it, so seeing the powers that be give away the place on the team to a Japanese person makes me very sorry for those athletes."
 Writing in the Mar. 17, 2012 issue of Weekly Gendai magazine, novelist Ayako Sono, 80, wrote that if Neko is officially confirmed for the Olympics after changing his citizenship to become Cambodian it is not an act that any reasonable, commonsensical person could even consider acceptable.  In strong words she wrote that the person changing their nationality will face the consequences of this action for the rest of their life, closing with:
"If he is going into this thinking lightheartedly that he can just change back to being a Japanese citizen after the Olympics then that triviality, that flippancy and shamelessness, makes me feel that there is no limit to how far we Japanese will debase ourselves."

6 comments:

Hilson Reidpath said...

I really don't like this guy, nor do I understand why anyone in Japan would encourage him to run for another country. I guess it is simply because he is a celebrity, but surely anyone that takes running seriously as a sport would consider this a fraud.
I have spoken to some of the guys that I train with about this, and while they did not outright express contempt, they were certainly not encouraging either. It was more of a sideways tilt of a head and a nervous smile (ちょっとね。。。。)- I am sure you are familiar with the reaction.

Did you by chance see the feature Running Times did in the January issue about National Identity in Olympic sports?

Brett Larner said...

No, I didn't see that.

Arai said...

A few things I don't understand:
How can the Cambodian Olympic Committee already officially give Neko a place on the team? Don't they have to wait until the end of the qualification period to know if there is really no qualified athlete and IAAF rule D6 is actually applicable? What happens if Bunting Hem gets the standard in Paris? He is saying he's confident to get it. At least he should run faster than 2:30. The IAAF rule speaks of the "best athlete". Can they really just decide Neko is their best athlete even if Hem is faster than him?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand, if there are marathoners in Cambodia faster, then why was he chosen?

Brett Larner said...

All good questions. As is why the rules on transfer of allegiance don't seem to apply in this case.

The Cambodian Olympic Committee seemed to say last fall that Bunting had sent them a letter withdrawing from national team consideration, which would seem to put him outside the contenders no matter how fast he ran. It's hard to see why he would be training to make it if that were true, however.

If one were going to speculate it would seem that this might be some attempt to increase Japanese marathon tourism in Cambodia. Get rid of your top domestic guy, bring in a Japanese celebrity to run the Olympics, expedite his citizenship, do whatever is necessary to get the citizenship transfer to pass JAAF and IAAF muster, get him to promote your local races, work the Japanese media, attract the Japanese marathon tourist market. I guess it's possible they could anticipate enough tourism money coming in to offset whatever costs would be involved in putting this all together. But of course this is only speculation.

One could also imagine a scenario in which this is all being done with the expectation that Bunting does qualify, in which scenario Neko issues a touching statement about not getting in the way of a true athlete's dreams, stepping aside and coming across as the good guy. Everybody wins that way, Bunting, Cambodian tourism and Neko.

CK said...

Interested persons may wish to read the most recent English language report from within Cambodia:
http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2012033055325/Sport/hem-bunting-and-ly-nary-wind-up-kenyan-training-head-to-paris.html
Quite why it is necessary for the CAM multiple NR holder to run 2:18 to be selected for his own country in preference to Neko Hiroshi is a matter known only to a certain ("priveliged"?) few. In fact there is a big danger that he could overextend in the first half in Paris on Sunday and blow up. 2:18 is a big big ask, as I think we as athletes all know.
A further observation/question re CAM's OG selection policy ... could there be any significance in why Neko Hiroshi's 5th place (2:37:39) as CAM's representative at marathon in SEA Games 2011 was considered as better than Kieng Samorn's 5th place at 800m (1:53:17) in SEA Games 2011 ? (We never see Samorn's name mentioned anywhere - why not? If Hem Bunting really wishes to miss 2012 OG , then Samorn may be the logical CAM wildcard replacement, not a Japanese comedian
Regarding the tourism-promotion angle suggested above, I would guess that this is not the original motivation, and if it is now being touted as such I would interpret it as a convenient retrospective ruse - any "costs involved in putting this all together" are unlikely (...very very very unlikely...) to be being borne by anybody outside Neko Hiroshi's team.
And a further casualty of all this is that Ly Nary who set a CAM women's NR at marathon in 4/2011 was not selected for SEA Games 2011 (connected to Hem Bunting's non selection) and will probably be ignored for 2012 OG selection too, even if she sets another NR in Paris on Sunday.