A world championship the globe doesn't know it needs
A Japanese contest in garbage collection saw over 21 countries participate this year. The aim? Be the top dog in collecting and segregating waste
Ever heard of collecting trash as a sport and winning the top prize? Now imagine a world championship complete with teams competing to gather the most garbage.
In Japan, Spogomi (a portmanteau of ‘sport’ and ‘gomi-hiroi’ which means ‘trash gathering’ in Japanese) has been taking place since 2016. Teams from Asian countries would gather in Japan each year and participate.
This year, its organisers opened the door to teams from around the world — including India — for the first time. Twenty-one countries participated, including India. The event took place on November 22 at the United Nations University in Shibuya, a district in Tokyo. This year’s theme was ‘Your waste, Be responsible’.
Each team was allowed three players. Great Britain took the first spot, followed by Japan and Italy among 21 participating teams. India, with all three players from Chennai, came sixth. The winning team succeeded in collecting 83.7 kg of garbage in a little over two hours of game time.
This ‘sport’ was invented in Japan by the Nippon Foundation Social Sports Initiative as a means to promote awareness about marine conservation and the need to stop urban litter from reaching the sea and oceans. The foundation is a philanthropic organisation at the forefront of addressing global issues, with a particular focus on marine-related challenges.
What is the game?
This sport was invented in 2008 to encourage people to pick up litter in public places, and year by year, its popularity has increased in Japan and the organiser held more than 200 contests in Japan alone.
This year, qualifying tournaments were held in 47 prefectures in Japan and a national tournament was conducted to determine the best team in the country. Qualifying tournaments were held in 20 countries around the world — including India.
The competition is divided into two halves. Both halves allowed each team of three players 45 minutes to search for waste and 20 minutes to separate it.
The team from Great Britain, named ‘the North will rise again’, collected a total of 83.7 kg of garbage in the first and second halves — this fetched them 9048.1 points. The runner-up team was from Japan (team name: ‘Smile story’) which collected 5.50 kg of garbage that fetched them 6154.4 points. Italy came third and collected 44.05 kg of garbage.
“Spogomi is a competitive sport in which teams of three members collect as much trash as possible by hand within a given time limit and area. The teams are then scored based on weight and type of trash collected,” said Nikhil Ravikumar, CEO, Cirqt. The Chennai-based technology company that works with animators, musicians, comic artists and other creative folks was also involved in the execution of the Spogomi World Cup.
Cirqt has organised the World Cosplay Summit (aka Sekai Kosupure Samitto), an annual international cosplay event that has promoted Japanese pop culture for a decade. Earlier this year, on July 9, it organised the Spogomi World Cup - India Stage at Chennai's Besant Nagar beach in which 40 teams from across the country participated. The qualifying team took part in the Spogomi competition held in Japan last week.
Team India, which went by the name Chennai Super Klean, included Amrit A (23), Madhusudhanan Radha Thanikasalam (21), and Sharun A (26). The latter two work at the Environmentalist Foundation of India while Amrit is a volunteer at the NGO’s beach clean-up drives.
Game, set, go
“We have been doing beach clean-ups for more than 12 years in Chennai and we needed three people in the team, and thus three of us decided to team up. For us, going to Japan for the final was not the main goal but creating environmental awareness was the key,” said Sharun.
The trio met the other teams and other Japanese officials during the three-day event in Shibuya. The final day was reserved for the championship.
“It is tough to find garbage in Tokyo, so that was a challenge. But we did a sweep of locations and noticed that parking lots had a lot, especially cigarettes,” Amrit explained. “The teams had different strategies. We had a big lead in the first half, but in the second half, we went to places where there wasn’t much waste. We got lucky with a parking lot that shared a wall with a residential area, where we found loads of waste,” Amrit added.
The team collected cigarette butts, cans, bottles, broken traffic cones, and umbrellas — and were marked also for disposing of the garbage effectively, as waste segregation is an inherent part of the sport.
Mitsuyuki Unno, the executive director of Nippon Foundation, which organised the championship, said over X (formerly Twitter) that the important thing was to make people realise the situation of litter in the ocean. “Many people are still not yet aware of the marine waste problem,” he said. He said the other purpose of the event was to provide opportunities for people to take action.