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Gay pro soccer player returns to Japan to effect social change using 2020 Games

Professional soccer player Shiho Shimoyamada (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)

TOKYO -- Professional soccer player Shiho Shimoyamada, who in a rare move among Japanese athletes came out as gay earlier this year, said she hoped for a society that "embraces each other's differences" in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

In preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, which will start in just 400 days as of June 20, 24-year-old Shimoyamada plans to continue calling for understanding toward sexual minorities.

In February of this year, when Shimoyamada was a player on SV Meppen, a second-tier team in Germany's second football -- or soccer -- division, she tweeted that she had a girlfriend. After spending two years in Germany, she returned to Japan last month, and she started looking for a Japanese team that would take her and simultaneously began engaging in activities to eliminate prejudice toward sexual minorities.

Asked what led her to reveal her sexual orientation, she said, "I wanted to sort out my environment with my own strength so that I could live true to myself."

Formerly from Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, Shimoyamada was named as a candidate for Japan's national team in Universiade -- or the World University Games -- while she was a student at Keio University in Tokyo. She came to acknowledge her sexual orientation when she was in high school, and began dating her now 25-year-old girlfriend in college.

Same-sex marriages were legalized in 2017 in Germany, the same year Shimoyamada relocated there after graduating from college. In December last year, she came out to her parents and told them about her girlfriend. After some silence, Shimoyamada's father said, "Live the path you have chosen."

What finalized her decision to return to Japan was her desire to use the Tokyo Games, which touts its vision as that of "unity in diversity," as a trigger to effect change in Japan. "With the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, the flow toward embracing diversity is growing," she said, "If we can't change the tides now, we never will."

(Japanese original by Miaki Tsuburaya, Sports News Department)

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