“I am so glad that I have been able to prove, especially to children, that it is actually possible for a Japanese soccer player to become the best in the world,” Sawa said following the ceremony.
Sawa has been a mainstay of the Japanese national women’s soccer team, nicknamed “Nadeshiko Japan,” since her début at the age of 15. In last year’s Women’s World Cup, which took place in Germany, Sawa was the leading scorer and MVP, leading her country to victory as captain with a thrilling win over the United States in the final, climaxing in a penalty shoot-out.
Not only was this the first such win for Japan, this marked the first soccer World Cup title for any Asian country. Sawa now serves as a symbol of Japanese women’s soccer, having won the world’s most prestigious titles both as a team member and as an individual.
The recent successes of the national team, together with the increasing popularity of women’s soccer, have provided the Japanese Football Association (JFA) with the confidence to take the sport to the next stage. The JFA’s aim is to host the Women’s World Cup in 2019.
“It was very difficult for Japan to even dream of being the host country because women’s soccer was an unpopular sport in the past,” said Junji Ogura, JFA President.
Yoshinori Taguchi, a senior director of the Japanese women’s soccer league, agrees and adds that “Sawa’s Ballon D’or provides a chance for Japanese women’s soccer to achieve further growth. We would like to take a leading role in making a Women’s Club Team World Cup and an Asian Champions’ League a reality. These would increase the popularity of and sponsorship for women’s soccer.”
Ogura also added that the JFA will be exhibiting Sawa’s award in North-eastern Japan. During the World Cup, Sawa said she wanted her team to play well to encourage disaster victims in that area who had been affected by a tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor incident only months before.
Sawa’s next goal is to win a gold medal at the upcoming Summer Olympics in London this year. In the 30 years of its history, the Japanese women’s team has yet to win an Olympic medal. “The hard work of previous generations has paved the way to the success of Japanese women’s soccer today. I want to bring the Olympic gold medal to Japan”, she said.