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Women’s judo coach resigns over abuse of athletes

Harassment rampant, says Olympic committee chief

Kyodo

Ryuji Sonoda, head coach of the national women’s judo team, submitted his letter of resignation Friday to the All Japan Judo Federation to take responsibility for physically abusing team members during practice.

The federation initially had planned to simply reprimand Sonoda and retain him as head coach, but he told a news conference Thursday it would be difficult to continue in the post because the incident has drawn substantial public attention.

“It’s a shame that I have to quit under these circumstances. I feel the most responsible,” Sonoda said after the judo federation accepted his resignation.

Federation President Haruki Uemura, who has resigned as the Japanese Olympic Committee’s director of development due to the scandal, said there was little choice, although he was the one who initially said Sonoda could stay on as coach.

“He was convinced, so there was no way to persuade him to stay.”

Assistant coach Masaru Tanabe, 40, will head the team when it goes to Europe later this month, sources at the federation said.

Earlier in the day, education and sports minister Hakubun Shimomura told reporters that such abuses must be rooted out before members of the International Olympic Committee, who will judge Tokyo’s candidacy in hosting the 2020 Summer Games, visit in March.

The executive director of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Noriyuki Ichihara, said Thursday abuse in sports in Japan is not limited to judo.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ichihara said. “I am thinking this sort of thing is happening and will keep cropping up.”

A coach who has trained international-caliber athletes but did not want to be named said: “Physical violence is employed to a greater or lesser degree. I’ve seen this with my own eyes.”

Holding an emergency session, the JOC decided to set up a support system to help athletes afraid to speak out for fear of retribution.

“We must listen to what athletes desire to say,” Ichihara said. “We must seize this opportunity to change the sporting world.”

At the request of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the JOC has been tasked with investigating the practices among its member federations.

Some at the emergency session expressed fear that investigators will be bogged down if the probe is not limited to physical abuse and harassment and instead includes a wide range of issues, like lack of transparency in national team selections or other past injustices.

Separately Thursday, the International Judo Federation strongly condemned corporal punishment in the All Japan Judo Federation.

“It has nothing to do with the spirit and philosophy of judo taught by the founding master of our sport, master Jigoro Kano,” President Marius Vizer said in a statement appearing on the IJF’s website.

“The IJF is particularly focused on the development and promotion of the moral code of judo,” the IJF statement says. “Judo is a method to develop the physical and mental capacities, whose primary concern is to maintain the health and integrity (physical and mental) of the participants. Any action that goes against these principles (is) banned. The IJF will therefore take all necessary measures.”

According to an IJF press officer, federation officials will get together at the Paris Grand Slam on Feb. 9 and 10, and hope to gather as much information as possible before then.