Harnessing sport for social change
Share this article:
‘No wucking forries,” is what Haruhisa Handa tells me before he creates an impromptu ink painting of a pine tree for my entertainment. I had enquired about his time because the serious business of the World Sports Values Summit for Peace and Development, which he was hosting in the midst of this interview at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, was under way.
The “no wucking forries” line is a spoonerism Handa adapted from his Australian golfing buddies because he’s not the kind of man you’ll find swearing or cursing. My anxiety about his time is based on the reading I did on Handa and that he rarely, according to the Aussie press, gives interviews.
So this right here, folks, is a bit of a media coup.
That notion is, however, very quickly dispelled. Handa is anything but aloof and appears to be enjoying the conversation about his life’s work.
Refreshingly too, Handa, a man of massive wealth, influence and access, doesn’t take himself too seriously. At the airport on the way to Cape Town, staff at a store thought the 64-year-old Japanese philanthropist was action star Jackie Chan. Handa took it in his stride and played along.
“They asked me for my autograph. I told them I’m the real Jackie Chan, not a fake and that he signs his name as ‘Handa’,” he chuckles, looking pleased with himself.
The ink painting Handa did for me is a keeper – completed in just over a minute. It is one of his many talents. Apart from ink painter, he is also an accomplished businessman who runs a number of multinational companies, philanthropist, investor, opera-recording artist who has been praised by the likes of singer Michael Bolton, author of 280 books about sport, business and art, golfer, calligrapher par excellence, Zen master and Buddhist monk (the books and music are produced under his stage name of Toshu Fukami).
Thank goodness I’m not writing his biography because Handa has too many degrees and qualifications to mention and his philanthropy projects would fill all the columns of this newspaper.
He has won numerous awards for his humanitarian efforts and his legacy stretches from building hospitals in Cambodia to being known as the “Father of Blind Golf” after establishing the first blind golf club in Japan and later becoming honorary president of the International Blind Golf Association.
But right now he has brought some of the top sporting icons of South Africa and the rest of the world – like Gary Kirsten, Lucas Radebe and swimmer Ian Thorpe – together at his summit.
During the summit, hosted under the auspices of his International Sports Promotion Society, or ISPS Handa, of which Handa is the founder and chairman, they are all engaged in working with youth and demonstrating how sport can change lives and circumstances.
The summit was first hosted before the 2012 Olympics in London. Athletes had approached Handa to sponsor an engagement that would recognise the power of sport to help to lift the poor out of their circumstances and to mitigate political conflict.
“They asked me to convene a summit with very young people and sports organisations – that was the first idea of the summit. The next year I brought the summit to Tokyo at a critical moment when Japan was considering bidding for the Olympics.
“When the Japanese Olympic Committee was confronted with the question of why it wanted to host the games, the summit offered logical reasons about the value and power of sport. They learnt a lot at the summit.
“Then the summit went to the UN in New York last year, when it realised, post-9/11, that promoting sport as a cultural exchange mitigates conflicts in the geopolitical space.”
Handa then wanted to bring the summit to South Africa. It was an easy decision because he was already supporting South African sports entities in the form of Fives Futbol and Mpumalanga Black Aces.
But it was the example of South Africa as a nation harnessing sport to bring about social change that most impressed Handa.
“Here there was the well-known campaign to use soccer, rugby, golf and cricket to help break through apartheid. That’s why I decided to host this one in South Africa. This is historic – London, Tokyo, New York … and now Cape Town. Next, maybe I’ll take the summit to Brazil or elsewhere in South America.”
Handa’s first involvement with South Africa was through his love for golf and his friendship with Selwyn Nathan of the Sunshine Tour. He sponsored a golf event and immediately set about including disabled golfers in the tournament. As the tournament progressed, Handa asked the pros who failed to make the cut to pair up with a disabled golfer and play in a parallel tournament.
“Selwyn introduced me to Adam from Fives Futbol – a very switched-on young man. Adam explained how soccer educated poor people in Africa and how lots of young people were involved in drug abuse and crime. He provided the venue for young people to play soccer and the rate of drug abuse and criminal activity dropped because they were too busy playing soccer.
“I’m a golfer, I don’t play soccer at all, but I realised the importance of soccer in South Africa so I decided to help Adam’s Fives Futbol to allow young people to play. The grades improved.
“Then there’s Mpumalanga Black Aces who I sponsor as well. I asked them to assist in providing good education to young children in the province. Children respond to soccer players because they’re heroes – that again is the power of sport. In this way, I’m exploring how the value of sport can be beneficial to society.”
One of the other areas Handa, himself a practising Buddhist monk, uses as a tool for social change, is interfaith activity.
“We should respect each other’s religious differences but we can share common humanity and compassion to build peace and reconciliation.
“We convened the African Interfaith Association to minimise conflicts and reduce poverty. Religious people have to educate, it’s crucial.”
The Aussie press also wrote that Handa spent “97%” of his wealth on doing good. His philosophy to use his wealth for the greater good started when he first received religious enlightenment at the age of 25. A year later he started the first of his businesses.
“I’ve been in business for 42 years. For 36 years I have been running a watch manufacturing company that makes Seiko, Casio, Citizen and other brands. I have been running a publishing company for 25 years and a travel agency in Japan, Australia and England. In Australia I own a private yacht marina.
“A person who is clever and switched-on is not only a successful businessperson. While we as individuals hold up the lofty aim of promoting good services and make contributions to society, what is needed is good people with the right chemistry to collaborate with each other.
“With Buddhism, combined with temporalism, I got enlightenment when I was 25 years old – twice. Then a third time when I was 26, then at 43, and then at 56; five times enlightenment. According to Japanese philosophy, after getting enlightenment, it’s very important to follow through.
“Zen masters always write calligraphy or paint. The artwork is the manifestation of their awareness of themselves and what’s inside. Real meditation is not meditation in very calm situations. Real meditation lies in daily life actions. Behaviour based on inside awareness should not change but always be stable.
“Real meditation is critical to the Japanese school of temporalism. This temporalism combined with judo, karate, flower arrangement, haiku poems and the tea ceremony – martial arts and artistic background – is the constant effort of artistic and sports exercise for tempering and brushing up my inside awareness and soul. It is the Zen master’s value of life.
“I have never stopped, I have never taken a holiday for 29 years, not a Sunday off, always working but trying to enjoy work. Inside, you are happy. That is the life’s value. Since I was 25 years old, all my activities – including arts, sport and business – have been a dedication to God, the universe, society and my soul. It’s not necessary to be a champion outside; but the process is most important.
“I enjoy improving every day – not outside, but inside. It is about respecting differences and sharing the common.”
Last month, Handa’s ink paintings and calligraphy were exhibited in a museum in Britain. For him, the arts, sport and philanthropy are a form of worship.
“Worship and faith, artistic sense and intellect – three treasures from this world that you must bring to the next life. Money and assets, you cannot bring. While I am living I need to spend most of my money and assets I earned in service to society and leave just some to successor.”
* Abarder is editor of the Cape Argus