The latest instalment of the UNIQLO Interview looks at wheelchair tennis’s longest-standing sponsor, NEC, to find out how the sport has evolved during their 29 years of support.
Wheelchair Tennis looked very different in 1991. With no formal tour, no official rankings, no prize money and no place on the schedule at the Grand Slams, the sport has come a long way in the last three decades. But one thing has stayed the same - the involvement of NEC.
When the Japanese corporation decided to join as a major sponsor, everything changed for the sport of wheelchair tennis. NEC’s funding was the catalyst for the creation of the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour and Ranking. In 1991 Netherlands’ Chantal Vandierendonck and USA’s Randy Snow were recognised as ITF Wheelchair Tennis World Champions for the first time alongside their non-disabled counterparts.
After just one year of collaboration, the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour consisted of 11 international tournaments and wheelchair tennis became a full medal sport at the Paralympics in Barcelona. USA’s Snow and Monique van den Bosch of the Netherlands became double gold medalists, taking both singles and doubles titles.
In 1994, the ITF launched the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters as the year-end showcase of the Tour.
Fast forward to today and wheelchair tennis’s popularity continues to grow and is one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports in the world, both in size and number of players, featuring more than 160 events worldwide each year.
NEC continues to be the title sponsor of the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters and is also an Official Partner of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, celebrating an astounding 29 years of partnership with the ITF this year.
There’s no doubt that wheelchair tennis wouldn’t be where it is today without the involvement of NEC –the sport benefitted in the early years of the partnership from a more professional look as a result of NEC’s investment.
It wasn’t just financially that NEC made their presence known. The company was always keen to find new and innovative ways to grow the sport and was keen to involve staff and families as much as possible which led to clinics being introduced at the Masters events.
So what is the secret to such a long-lasting partnership?
NEC Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Makoto Enomoto said: “NEC is a leading global ICT solutions provider that strives to benefit businesses and individuals so as to promote a more sustainable world where people have a chance to reach their full potential. This is embodied in our corporate slogan ‘Orchestrating a brighter world’.
“We are proud and privileged to sponsor wheelchair tennis as we share the same passion for excellence by overcoming challenges and bringing people around the globe closer together.”
NEC has sponsored the year-end Masters event and the Wheelchair Tennis Tour since their inception with the aim of promoting sports for people with disabilities.
Enomoto went on to explain that NEC is not just limited to wheelchair tennis. “NEC supports other para sports in order to realise a more universal society where people can lead lives of enrichment regardless of age, gender, nationality or disability,” he said.
NEC believes that disability sports can enhance the following:
- Promote communities worldwide where people can play their favourite sports
- Communicate that anyone, regardless of disability, can aim to become a top athlete
- Be an attractive spectator sport for everyone
“In recent years, ‘inclusion and diversity’ has become a worldwide theme,” explained Enomoto. “But NEC has championed this value long before.”
And what does the future hold for NEC and wheelchair tennis?
The Paralympic Games present an exciting opportunity for athletes to demonstrate their individuality and ability to play at an exceptionally high level.
The Paralympics provides a platform to introduce wheelchair tennis to a wider fanbase and both the ITF and NEC hope this will help continue the growth of the sport both on and off the court.
Advances in technology will have a positive impact on the functionality and comfort of wheelchairs, which in turn may see a difference in how the sport evolves. The ITF remains committed to providing access to wheelchairs and an environment for more players to take to the court to experience the sport.
Enomoto added: “NEC is passionate about overcoming challenges and bringing people around the globe closer together. By utilising our experience in supporting wheelchair tennis for over 29 years, NEC wants to support para sports in order to realise a ‘universal society’. We will continue to work with the ITF to develop wheelchair tennis.”