The Hakone Ekiden will see its 100th running in January. To celebrate this landmark in the event's history, qualification has been opened up to universities from across the country. In June last year the event's organizers the Kanto Region University Sports Association (KGRR) announced that the field would be expanded from the usual 20 schools to 23, but that the Kanto Region Student Alliance select team made up of top individual finishers at October's Yosenkai qualifying race from schools that fail to make the top 23 would not be a part of the 100th running. But that last decision is now being questioned. This spring eight universities led by Tokyo University and Tokyo Kogyo University formed a group to lobby the KGRR to reverse the decision not to include the Student Alliance team. Lobby group member Hiroaki Furukawa, a graduate student at Tokyo University, discussed the situation.
Furukawa only learned that the Student Alliance would not be a part of next year's Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 3 this year, the day he ran the 99th Hakone Ekiden as a part of the team. "After the race the KGRR people told us that there probably wouldn't be a national version of the Student Alliance team at the 100th running," he says. "I just thought, 'What?' I knew they weren't going to have a Kanto Region select team, but I never thought they wouldn't do a national one."
He probably wasn't the only one. On April 19 last year the KGRR sent a proposal not to include a Kanto Region select team at the 100th Hakone to its member universities. On June 30th the same year, the KGRR representative committee voted not to have a Kanto Region select team. Of the 244 member universities, only 10 voted against the decision. But when Furukawa and other group members approached member universities with a petition to reverse the decision, more than 80 signed.
"There is a large discrepancy between the results of the vote at the committee meeting and the number of signatures on the petition," Furukawa says. "It seems as though the representatives on the committee didn't take the time to hear what the schools they represent really thought before voting on their behalf. There aren't any recorded minutes from the meeting so I don't know the exact number, but from what we've been able to find it looks like a lot of universities just participated by proxy and said, 'We'll leave it up to the committee president.'"
Compounding the problem is that the meeting agenda and documents about the vote whether or not to include a Kanto Region select team were only delivered to member universities the day before or day of the representative committee meeting. "This is a clear violation of the KGRR's own rules," says Furukawa. "The rules state that member schools must be provided with the agenda a minimum of two weeks before the representative committee meeting except in emergency situations." In other words, member universities were not informed clearly until the last second that a decision would be made about discontinuing the Kanto Region select team, and the vote at the representative committee meeting was made without adequate informed discussion.
For students like Furukawa who had hoped to be at the anniversary Hakone as a part of the select team, this all represents a major problem. How something like this could be rushed through without due process is a good question, especially given that everything else about the 100th anniversary of the legendary race is going forward with more careful preparation than usual. In response to a request for an interview about the issue, the KGRR declined via email, commenting, "Due to the heated tone of media coverage of this issue it would be difficult for the students on the representative committee to discuss the issue in a way in which they would be treated calmly and fairly, so all such interview requests must be declined."
"The policies of the KGRR executive committee need to be examined based on the opinions and decisions of the student representatives, but the voices of the athletes have not be properly communicated here," says Furukawa. It's our group's belief that the system in place doesn't allow for those voices to be communicated, or at the very least not to be sufficiently and effectively communicated."
Some people say, "If you really want to run the Hakone Ekiden then you should go to a university that has a history as a Hakone regular." But in response to that Furukawa says, "I decided to leave my hometown in Kyushu for grad school at Tokyo University because I wanted to do my research in the best academic environment possible. The Hakone Ekiden was a secondary part of that. It would be nice if it were possible to have a chance to run Hakone even if your studies are your priority. The Hakone Ekiden is a university sports event, so I don't think the university sports association should be eliminating that as an option."
Furukawa knows people who chose to go to athletically competitive schools in the Kanto Region because they wanted to run Hakone. "If they eliminate the select team then it seems like that will become a decision involving your entire future career path," says Furukawa. "Collegiate sports are a single four-year cycle, so I think they should be considering the athletes' feelings and opinions more and give them as be as generous as possible in giving options."
The Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier half marathon takes place Oct. 14 in Tachikawa, Tokyo.
translated and edited by Brett Larner