Japan’s world champion women soccer players have kicked up a fuss after being left in economy class, while their male colleagues lived it up in business on a flight to Europe for the Olympics.
The gold medal hopefuls of Nadeshiko Japan flew in premium economy on the Paris-bound Japan Airlines flight, while the nation’s under-23 men’s team — medal outsiders — sat up front on the same plane.
“I guess it should have been the other way around,” World Cup heroine Homare Sawa, 33, told Japanese media after arriving in the French capital on Monday.
“Even just in terms of age, we are senior,” she said, with a smile.
Sawa, last year’s FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, will be the oldest Japanese player in London.
The men’s Olympic soccer competition is played out among under-23 teams, with each of them allowed to have three over-aged players. There are no age restrictions on the women, but few teams comprise only professionals.
Sawa said a solid performance in London might boost the chances of an upgrade on the way home.
“When we won the World Cup, our seats were changed to business class for our return flight,” she said. “I hope we can produce a good result again and be treated the same way.”
The Japanese Olympic Committee allotted economy-class seats to London-bound Japanese Olympians, except for physically large athletes in judo and other sports.
The Japan Football Association has helped change the tickets for men to business class since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in consideration of their full professional status.
For the London Games, the association upgraded the women’s tickets one notch to “premium” economy class in recognition of their status as potential medalists.
Nadeshiko Japan — named after a pink flower that symbolizes femininity and grace in Japan — open their campaign against Canada on July 25, in a group that also includes Sweden and South Africa.