Genichi Tamatsuka is handsome. This slender six-year-old retains the size of the third line he was. “I’ve never worn the Japanese national team jersey, explains in perfect English, but I was an international from Singapore when I worked there, between the ages of 27 and 31. » Until a knee injury during a Hong Kong Sevens match against Australia’s Tim Horan ended his playing career. “But rugby made me the man I am and I want to give back everything he gave me”, specifies this influential businessman, to Japan of the South Korean multinational Lotte. Tamatsuka took over the reins of the Japanese professional championship a year ago, renamed “Japan Rugby League One”, with the ambition of making it grow even more.
“How has the Japanese championship developed over a few years?
The 2019 World Cup represented a major shift in media coverage and the popularity of rugby in Japan. You know, rugby is not as popular as baseball, football or sumo. Unlike France, it is still a niche sport, but the potential is immense. My priority is to expand our fan base here first and I think the rugby culture fits well with the culture of Japanese society in terms of values.
“We want to grow sport not only in Japan, but also throughout Asia with cross-border competition”
A year ago you took the helm of Ligue 1, what changes have you pushed for?
The Championship, created in 2003 as the “Top League”, has contributed greatly to the success of Brave Blossoms. But it fell under the auspices of the Federation. That’s why it was important to create a league, called “League One”, that was independent and in which each team
it can make your work fruitful. Of course, all this is done by the hand of the Federation, but both entities have the same importance. And League 1 must remain this indispensable platform that will improve the national team. This is our vision. Ultimately, we want to grow the sport not only in Japan, but also throughout Asia with cross-border competition.
Japan has become very attractive for some foreign players …
We are lucky to have top level players who come to strengthen our teams. I’m thinking of world champions like Malcolm Marx (whore, AFS) or Wille Le Roux (back, AFS), All Black Damian McKenzie (back), Wallaby Bernard Foley (opener), and so on. This season we have had 185 foreign players with 1424 selections among them, these are very high level players who help to improve the level of our Championship and help the Japanese players to progress. It should also allow the selection to improve although we didn’t see it too much last week against France (river).
“Right now the southern hemisphere is having financial difficulties and it is true that we can attract players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in good condition.”
What is the quota policy applied to foreign players?
We have identified three categories of players, A, B and C. Category A are the eligible players for Japan, each team must present at least 11 in the fifteen starters and at least 17 in the 23. Category B are foreign players who can be eligible for Japan in a few years. Finally, category C is for players who have already worn the jersey of another national team: these are limited to three in the squads of Ligue 1 clubs and therefore cannot be more than three per match sheet. It’s pretty drastic.
Would you like to attract French players?
Why not ? Yes it would be fine. I know that in France players play a lot of games. How many ? 26, oi? Plus the final phase? Wow! these are many matches in addition to the European Cup and test matches. It is difficult ! Here we offer a tight championship, which runs from January to the end of May. Well, it’s too short to make a profit (laughs), we have to think about lengthening it a bit. My idea is to start in November through late May-early June.
Do you consider yourself competing with the Top 14 to attract the best players?