OSAKA – The 15 elite female judoka who allege they were abused during Olympic training by former head coach Ryuji Sonoda want the All Japan Judo Federation to overhaul its entire staff, not just one coach, their lawyer said Monday.
Noting that his clients were “deeply scarred both mentally and physically by the violence and harassment inflicted by coach Sonoda,” attorney Nobuyoshi Tsujiguchi warned that his clients, some of whom took part in the London Olympics, are insisting on “a fundamental change” in the coaching staff as initially requested in a petition handed to the Japanese Olympic Committee on Dec. 25.
“The reason (for the complaint) is because they felt anger and despair toward the national team they dreamed to be a part of,” Tsujiguchi said, adding that his clients are not pursuing legal action at this time.
Sonoda, who has essentially confessed to using harsh training methods in the buildup to London, resigned on Friday. The case has drawn international attention and become a public relations nightmare for Tokyo, which is bidding for the 2020 Summer Games.
Tsujiguchi read a prepared statement addressed to the judo federation from the 15 whistleblowers, whose names have not been released, describing the indignation they suffered from the harsh coaching practices, the initial unwillingness of the judo federation and JOC to address the problem, and the fear they experienced in lodging the protest.
“Within the judo federation, our voices were not heard, they were suppressed,” one part says.
The statement goes on to say their complaint even fell on deaf ears when they took it to the JOC in December, despite the fact that corporal punishment had become a hot social topic after an Osaka teen killed himself that month after being beaten repeatedly by his basketball coach.
“It was not until a series of media reports that you finally understood our situation and things began to change. The violence and harassment by our former coach should never be permitted. In judo, as in all other sports, we are firmly against violence and harassment of any kind,” the statement said.
The judo federation initially reprimanded Sonoda but intended to keep him in his coaching position anyway.
It is not their intention to put an end to the incident by simply replacing the head coach without resolving the organizational problems inherent within the judo federation, the statement said.
The statement ends by stating the women are convinced that only an investigation by the JOC into corporal punishment in judo and other sports will lead to a true understanding of Japanese society as it looks ahead to the 2020 Olympics.
“When athletes are provided with safe environments to train in, this is when society will truly understand the spirit of sports, and we believe Japan will be rooted in a sports culture appropriate to hold the 2020 Olympics,” the statement said.