Wheelchair tennis and NEC: Continuously contributing to Inclusion & Diversity over a span of 30 years
A tennis court enveloped in a dignified atmosphere. Pairs of wheels spinning forward and backward, the only sound being that of determination colliding and echoing through the air. As a sharp shot slices through the court, the spectators erupt into thunderous applause.
While the excitement of wheelchair tennis as a sport is now widely known, the NEC Group has been supporting wheelchair tennis athletes for 30 years—since well before it gained the recognition it enjoys today—through its sponsorship of tournaments and more.
Underpinning this ongoing support is NEC's deeply rooted commitment to inclusion and diversity (I&D).
The creation of a society where anyone can embrace their dreams and take on new challenges
"By continuing to support wheelchair tennis, NEC will contribute to the creation of a society where anyone can embrace their dreams and take on new challenges." This is the message conveyed by Takayuki Morita, President & CEO of NEC, at the opening of the 2023 NEC Wheelchair Singles Masters, the season-ending wheelchair tennis championships held by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). We are the only corporate sponsor to have consistently supported this event since its debut in 1994, and this year marks our thirtieth year of sponsorship (including the period during which the event was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Shingo Kunieda, who long led the world of wheelchair tennis with his countless accomplishments, sadly retired from the sport in 2023. Kunieda is just one of the athletes touched by the support provided by the NEC Group over the years. He remembers seeing the NEC logo at a venue while on his first overseas trip as a first-year high school student and thinking to himself, "NEC's support for wheelchair tennis isn't just domestic." Kunieda recalls, "It was encouraging and filled me with a sense of pride to see the logo of a Japanese company there." He also says it is something that came up in conversation with other athletes, adding, "NEC is a company to which we as wheelchair tennis athletes are truly indebted."
It was in 1991 that the NEC Group began its sponsorship of wheelchair tennis by sponsoring the first NEC All Japan Wheelchair Tennis Masters. Then, in 1992, the company sponsored the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour. Describing the contributions NEC has made to the sport, ITF President David Haggerty says, "There is no doubt that wheelchair tennis would not be where it is today without the loyal support of NEC, whose commitment to the development of the sport and its year-end championship, the NEC Wheelchair Singles Masters, has always been exemplary. NEC's support has enabled the ITF to develop wheelchair tennis in so many ways, including at grassroots levels, from the donation of tennis wheelchairs and the support of wheelchair tennis clinics, through to the support of tournaments on the world tour at the elite side of the sport."
While parasports are now recognized from the perspective of I&D, this concept was not yet common in the 1990s. So why did the NEC Group choose to focus on a little-known sport like wheelchair tennis at the time? According to an employee formerly engaged in sponsorship activities, "The spirit of 'contributing to a more prosperous society' has always been ingrained in the culture of the NEC Group." The employee also added, "This sentiment matched the belief that social participation and promotion of understanding are integral when it comes to the promotion of sports for all people," inferring what led to this decision made in the sport's infancy.
In the C&C (Computers and Communications) declaration—a vision that once served as NEC's moral pillar—made in 1977 by Koji Kobayashi, then-chairman of NEC Corporation, it was stated, "The entire world will one day reap the benefits of communications, and NEC is committed to supporting this." Prior to commencing its sponsorship of wheelchair tennis, NEC established and announced its corporate philosophy, "NEC strives through C&C to help advance societies worldwide toward deepened mutual understanding and the fulfillment of human potential." Today, our Purpose as a company is as follows: "NEC creates the social values of safety, security, fairness and efficiency to promote a more sustainable world where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential." Although the wording has changed with the times, the underlying spirit remains the same.
A truly diverse sport
By getting to know the rules of wheelchair tennis, you will undoubtedly gain a better understanding of why the NEC Group supports it. Except for players being allowed two bounces of the ball before hitting it, the rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as those for conventional tennis, and the same courts, rackets, and balls are used as well. When a wheelchair tennis player competes against a non-wheelchair tennis player, the respective rules are applied to each. Wheelchair tennis tournaments are increasingly held at the same time as those for conventional tennis tournaments, with all players using the same courts and locker rooms. In other words, wheelchair tennis is a sport that has advanced inclusion through diversity and fairness. The NEC Group does not support wheelchair tennis simply because it involves wheelchairs; instead, we support it as a sport that exemplifies our Purpose.
Young players are emerging in the wheelchair tennis world to fill the void left by Shingo Kunieda, who is no longer active on the courts. NEC remains committed to supporting these athletes as they continue to embrace the challenges before them. ITF President David Haggerty also shares this feeling of commitment, saying, "We share NEC's vision of a brighter world for all and look forward to working together in the future so that more and more athletes can flourish from the numerous benefits of playing wheelchair tennis and develop skills that will help them realize their potential in all aspects of society."
These athletes are on a stage where everyone can play as equals with tremendous determination and spirit. They also touch the hearts of those watching and give us the energy to take on our own challenges and tackle any difficulties we face. There is no doubt this has also encouraged and inspired NEC Group employees. We will continue to support wheelchair tennis and other sports, and the powerful push they provide will allow us to strive toward our Purpose, which is "to promote a more sustainable world where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential."