Courage Beyond the Field of Joel Chima’s Leadership in Eight Consecutive Olympic Appearances | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Courage Beyond the Field of Joel Chima’s Leadership in Eight Consecutive Olympic Appearances

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
After advancing as the second-place team in the qualifying group, they faced the risk of ending their streak of consecutive Olympic appearances if they lost even one match before the semi-finals. However, they managed to win brilliantly. Fujita (center), who assisted in both goals that secured their Olympic berth in the semi-final, erupted with joy.

The U-23 national soccer team won the Asian Cup on April 3 (Japan time) by defeating the Uzbekistan team 1-0. In the semi-final against Iraq on April 29th, which secured their eighth consecutive Olympic appearance, the team’s captain, Joel Chima Fujita, assisted in both goals. Fujita was born to a Nigerian father and a Japanese mother. He joined the youth academy of Tokyo Verdy and turned professional with the same club in 2019. From 2023, he has been playing for Sint-Truiden in the Belgian first division. His position is defensive midfielder, playing a central role in both attacking and defending on the pitch, becoming the core of the team’s tactics.


In the match against Iraq, Fujita set up Maeda’s opening goal in the 29th minute with a long feed from the back. Thirteen minutes later, Ohata passed the ball from the left side to the center, where Fujita quickly connected near the edge of the penalty area. Araki then reacted, defeating the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation and slotting the ball into the bottom right corner to make it 2-0.

Regarding the first goal, Fujita said, “I knew Maeda would make that move,” and for the second goal, he added, “Araki showed a good move,” praising the scorers’ plays and expressing gratitude to them. He spoke humbly while expressing joy.

What secretly draws the attention of us reporters is Fujita’s pre-match press conferences. Since entering the knockout stage, a press conference with the coach and one player has been held before each match, and from Japan, Coach Takeshi Oiwa and captain Fujita have been attending. However, only Japanese reporters understand Japanese, so simultaneous interpreters for English-Arabic and Japanese-English have been provided at this tournament. In other words, Arabic questions and answers are first translated into English by one interpreter, and then another interpreter translates them from English into Japanese. Therefore, it takes time to go from question to answer, but it’s unavoidable in international competitions.

Naturally, Coach Takeshi Oiwa responds in Japanese, but Fujita boldly challenges the press conferences in English. His English, which is far from fluent, may not be smooth, but to us Japanese, it somehow feels reassuring or endearing. His earnest effort to carefully deliver each word while thinking hard, coupled with Fujita’s cheerful personality, makes it quite heartwarming.

In fact, during the pre-match press conference before the quarter-final against Qatar on the 24th, there was a moment when Fujita stumbled over his words and fell silent for a few seconds. He let out a “Hmm” and tilted his head. We could only watch him on the stage with bated breath, but at that moment, Fujita shyly asked the interpreter, “Can I ask for your help?” and switched to speaking in Japanese. Furthermore, for all the questions after that, he responded in Japanese on that day.

What’s remarkable is that in the pre-semi-final press conference before the Iraq match, Fujita once again spoke in English, and this time, he completed the entire press conference in English. It was as if the previous day’s abandonment during the Qatar match press conference never happened. With a shy smile, he boldly completed this challenge. It was a press conference that revealed his mental strength.

Fujita explained his reason for facing the press conference in English

“It’s practice. I’m studying in Belgium, but I still feel inadequate, and I also do interviews in English in Belgium, so it’s like an extension of that, I’m in the middle of practicing.” 

Fujita described his English proficiency as still in the process of studying. Despite this, he continued to challenge himself to respond in English during the pre-match press conferences throughout the tournament, even though simultaneous interpretation was available.

However, he himself seems to be not entirely satisfied yet.


“I can only express about 50 percent of what I want to say. In today’s pre-final press conference, I was asked about the captain in English, and I wish I could have explained more clearly and in more detail. I still find it challenging and realize that I need to study more.” He pledged to improve his English skills.

Of course, just because it’s a press conference overseas doesn’t necessarily mean one should speak in English. Especially for someone in a position like a coach, it would be more appropriate to approach it in their native language or a language they are proficient in to accurately understand questions and convey their principles and views.

Even when looking at the Japan national team captain who participated in the World Cup, Makoto Hasebe (40), who served as captain for three consecutive World Cups and had a long career in Germany, would answer questions in German even if the media were Japanese or German at the club level. However, with the Japan national team, he used Japanese. As for answering English questions smoothly in English, it was mainly players like Maya Yoshida (35), who was entrusted with the captaincy in the Olympics in 2012 and 2021, as well as the World Cup in 2022. Naturally, there are foreign press members besides Japanese journalists, so it takes considerable courage to speak in English.

However, even considering that Fujita’s conversations in English are unlikely to include sensitive matters, it’s still commendable to praise his courageous challenge. Watching the official YouTube channel of his club, Sint-Truiden, as of last October, he admitted that “English is difficult” and “I can’t understand fast speech.” From that point, it’s evident that he has grown considerably and gained confidence in his English skills.

After the semifinal match against Iraq, coach Tsuyoshi Oiwa had this to say about Fujita’s play.

“He’s showing a bit of overconfidence with all those great plays, but we need him to tighten up a bit. Being able to do that much will get noticed worldwide, and if that benefits the team, all the better. So, we want to push even harder or encourage us to strive more and not be satisfied with the current state.”

While praising his performance, he also cautioned against becoming too satisfied. Despite already playing in the Belgian league, Fujita’s play suggests potential for further improvement. Alongside his on-field performance, attention should also be given to his communication in English.

  • Interview and text by Miko Ryokai

    Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1975. Graduated from the Department of History, Faculty of Letters, Japan Women's University, and began covering soccer in 2001, and became a writer in 2003 when she covered the World Youth Cup (now U-20 World Cup) in the UAE. He has covered four World Cup soccer tournaments and three Summer Olympics on site. Lives and works in Dusseldorf, Germany, since March 11, 2011.

  • PHOTO Afro

Photo Gallery2 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles