Japanese honeymooners honoured to be Cape Verde Olympic ambassadors

As Olympic ambassadors, Rikiya and Ayumi Kataoka received the official Olympic Cape Verde uniform and a national flag as gifts from the National Olympic Committee.
As Olympic ambassadors, Rikiya and Ayumi Kataoka received the official Olympic Cape Verde uniform and a national flag as gifts from the National Olympic Committee.

The couple had completed a third of their round-the-world trip before a suspension in long-haul flights grounded them in Cape Verde - where they have been staying for five months.

Japanese couple Rikiya and Ayumi Kataoka have told Tokyo 2020 of their pride after being appointed Olympic ambassadors for Cape Verde.

The Kataokas hit the headlines earlier this month after their round-the-world honeymoon trip came to a shuddering halt when the suspension of long-haul flights left them stranded on the archipelago, in West Africa.

The couple, unable to continue their trip to Europe, traded their time to help promote local businesses.

Their efforts were rewarded by the country's National Olympic Committee, who offered them a chance to become ambassadors for their Olympic team at Tokyo 2020 after hearing about their resourcefulness during their enforced five-month stay.

"I am very honoured because not many people can do it [even] if you really want to do it," Rikiya told Tokyo 2020.

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The story of the stranded couple turned Olympic ambassadors has captured the world's imagination, and has shone a spotlight on the Cape Verde Olympic Committee who have given the couple a helping hand.

"We are very happy that it got so much media attention," Cape Verde's chef de mission for Tokyo, Leonardo Cunha, told Tokyo 2020.

"The Olympic Games are to be set as a beacon of hope for humanity, and their story begins with struggle and uncertainty to finish in the biggest global event that will mark the will of humanity against the biggest challenge faced in this century.

"We truly believe that this symbol of friendship and hospitality from Cape Verde based on the Olympic ideal can serve as an example for the importance of the Olympic Movement globally," he said.

Cape Verde
Cape Verde
Courtesy of Rikiya Kataoka

Earning the trust of the local community

Rikiya said the key takeaway of this experience is "how it is important to get trust."

Without the support of the local community, the Kataokas would not have been able to turn their plight into something positive.

When they were stranded, Rikiya offered to create promotional videos to hotels and resorts in exchange of lodging and food. Thanks to a supportive community, the Kataokas have been able to subsist in the archipelago and are also helping to promote Cape Verde to the world.

"We are currently creating a number of promotional videos to help Cape Verde's tourism and food businesses. Thanks to that, Japanese followers started to say they wanted to go to Cape Verde," he said.

Asked how he was able to earn the trust of the local community, Rikiya said it's by displaying the very best of Japanese values with the people of Cape Verde.

"Just live as Japanese," he said. "Be humble, don't be late for meetings and also don't break promises. That is the big reason we have the trust of the locals."

The couple have had their visas extended and are planning to stay in Cape Verde for awhile whilst worldwide travel restrictions due to coronavirus pandemic are still in force.

Cape Verde in the Olympic Games

Cunha, the chef de mission for Tokyo, says the Kataokas will serve an important role as ambassadors next year.

"They will serve as our local ambassadors. We want to bring the Cape Verde Morabeza (the typical way of receiving guests in Cape Verde) to Japan.

"We are very grateful for all the support the Japanese people gave to Cape Verde throughout the years with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and also the local Embassy. It is important for us to have someone else from Japan tell their experience in Japan."

Cape Verde has been part of the Olympic Games since 1996, and are planning to send a handful of athletes next year. Although they have yet to qualify, swimmers Troy Pina and Jayla Pina and Djamila Silva (judo) are in the running.

Whilst athletes from Cape Verde are playing a waiting game in order to qualify for Tokyo 2020, for the Kataokas, this whole experience has given them a chance to ponder what the Olympic Games mean.

"As you can see from the Olympic emblem, the Olympics are not just a competition but [for] unity. I think I can help many people understand this now I am an Ambassador of Cape Verde from the other side of the world," Rikiya said.

RIkiya and Ayumi Kataoka display the flag of Cape Verde
RIkiya and Ayumi Kataoka display the flag of Cape Verde
Courtesy of Rikiya Kataoka