Japan schools move to protect cheerleaders from upskirting at sporting events

<span>School sporting tournaments in Japan have been marred by voyuerism, prompting a change in cheerleaders uniforms by some schools.</span><span>Photograph: mhodges/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
School sporting tournaments in Japan have been marred by voyuerism, prompting a change in cheerleaders uniforms by some schools.Photograph: mhodges/Getty Images/iStockphoto

High schools taking part in Japan’s annual spring baseball tournament are taking action to prevent spectators from taking sexualised photographs of female cheerleaders.

The invitational tournament – and a regular tournament held every summer at Koshien stadium near Osaka – are supposed to be a celebration of youthful sporting prowess and a chance for teenage boys from 32 schools around the country to make their mark and perhaps catch the eye of a professional ball club.

But in recent years the events have been marred by incidences of voyeurism, in which female members of cheerleading groups, often dressed in sleeveless tops and short skirts, are photographed without their consent, with the images posted online in some cases.

In response, cheerleaders from several schools now perform in the stands wearing long-sleeved shirts and shorts, although other schools have retained the traditional uniform.

Earlier this week, girls from Takasaki high school in Gunma prefecture, north-west of Tokyo, performed in shorts that had been designed to complement the uniforms worn by its baseball team.

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Despite complaints by some girls that they preferred to wear skirts, school officials said the group had accepted the costume change.

“Voyeuristic photos can potentially cause lifelong emotional damage to our students,” said Takasaki teacher Kohei Shiozawa, according to the public broadcaster NHK.

Airi Ozawa, the head of the school’s cheerleading team, told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper: “At first, I thought a skirt would be better, but when I actually wore [shorts] and started cheering, I felt a sense of unity as the outfits matched the baseball team uniforms. And they were easy to move about in. Now I can dance with peace of mind.”

As an additional deterrent, teachers from the school are patrolling the stands at Koshien with signs asking spectators to refrain from photographing students. Earlier this week, teachers from another school positioned themselves between the cheerleaders and regular spectators to block the view of would-be voyeurs.

Concern over secret photography has spread to other sports in Japan, with complaints from women competing in gymnastics, track and field and synchronised swimming, among other sports, that they have been secretly filmed or photographed.

In 2020, the Japan Olympic Committee described upskirting and other forms of secret photography targeting female athletes as “despicable”, warning that it would empower stadium officials to check images taken by spectators during the Tokyo Games.

The sportswear manufacturer Mizuno has developed a special fabric it says will deter voyeurs from secretly using infrared cameras that produce a “see-through” effect.

The firm plans to make the textile commercially available for track and field uniforms, sports bras and swimsuits, according to the Asahi Shimbun.