Hiroshi Mizohata of the Oita Trinita Football Club
By Sean Carroll
Hiroshi Mizohata is a former government official turned charismatic businessman who was instrumental in the establishment of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Oita Prefecture. As a result of spending much of his childhood in Europe, he also possesses a keen interest in soccer culture and was heavily involved in the formation of Oita Trinita Football Club. He worked tirelessly to establish the city as a host for the 2002 World Cup, and in 2004 he quit his post in the Ministry of Home Affairs to become president of the club.
Why does your passion lie with soccer when baseball is the most popular sport in Japan?
Because in baseball there is no relegation or promotion—the teams cannot move. In soccer, you can start at the bottom and work your way to the top.
Why did you want Oita be one of the World Cup host cities in 2002?
I lived in Italy when the World Cup was hosted there in 1990, and matches were played in Udine, Palermo and Cagliari—cities the same size as Oita. Seeing this, I wanted to do the same thing here; I wanted to make Oita an international city. I want people in Oita to be confident, to have pride in where they are from. The World Cup was a huge opportunity not only to change the ideas and opinions of people in Oita, but also those of people from outside the city. Cities like Oita need dreams like this.
How is your sponsorship structure different to that of most professional soccer clubs?
We think globally and act locally. We have 700 sponsors, most of them small, local businesses. This sets us apart from the bigger clubs in the bigger cities, as everybody feels involved and is a part of the club. Of these sponsors, I visited about 90 percent of them myself, calling on, at the most, 50 companies per day.
Oita is currently at the bottom of J1, but still has an average attendance of 20,000. How does the club gather such strong support?
Trinita is like the child, it is the baby of Oita and all of the companies and supporters care for it and want it to succeed. I try to speak to 100 people a day, every day, everywhere, to raise the profile of the club and get them to the games. If I do that for 10 years then everybody in Oita will know about the team. I see the rewards every day. People recognize me and wish me luck. Not just at the stadium, but in the city taxi drivers will spot me and shout out, “Gambare!” People feel closer to the club because we offer good communication.”
Have there ever been bad relations between the club and its fans?
Of course! The supporters have been unhappy many times, and when they call for me, I go and speak with them. Protests show they care and that we are all working toward the same goal. You cannot be personable only when you want things—you must also be when things are being demanded of you! Leaders need to remain positive at all times, and one of my mottos is ‘welcome adversity.’
What is your best piece of advice?
We have one life. Take your own pace and don’t care what anybody else thinks of you. Life is a competition or race, and in a competition or race you have to win. You can’t just walk through; you have to work hard to achieve success. And when you win, the most important thing to remember is that you should protect the loser—don’t boast. Likewise, when you lose, you should praise the winner. Defeat should motivate you to put more effort into winning next time. If you can keep this attitude then one day you will receive the ‘passport to win.’
Finally, would you prefer Oita to win the J.League or Japan to win the World Cup?
Oh, I don’t care about the national team; Oita, of course!
Oita Trinita, Wikipedia