Judo culture needs to change

Reverberations from the judo world scandal, triggered by the written complaint from 15 female judo athletes that they were subjected to harassment and physical violence by the head coach and the assistant coach, continued last week with the resignations of an influential board member of the All Japan Judo Federation and the assistant coach involved. But the resignations have not brought the scandal to a close.

As the athletes have demanded, the AJJF should make serious efforts to bring about “fundamental change” not only in the coaching staff of the national women’s team but also in the world of judo in general in Japan. The head coach, Mr. Ryuji Sonoda, resigned on Feb. 1. On Feb. 5 Mr. Kazuo Yoshimura, an AJJF board member in charge of athlete development, and assistant coach Mr. Kazuhiko Tokuno resigned.

Mr. Yoshimura has a brilliant record as a judo coach. But rather than taking a rational and scientific approach toward training, he stresses the importance of athletes’ willpower. In the past he has forced injured judo athletes to take part in matches and imposed extremely tight training schedules.

The AJJF should use the departure of Mr. Yoshimura as an opportunity to overhaul the coaching methods for women judo athletes and to change the culture of Japanese judo.

It is said that after the coaching staff of the male national judo team was overhauled and Mr. Yoshimura’s approach was no longer welcome, he felt uncomfortable with the men’s team and began frequenting the women’s practices instead.

But his presence apparently made the 15 female judo athletes think that the situation would only worsen. They filed a written complaint with the AJJF in September. Failing to understand the gravity of their complaint, the AJJF refrained from launching a full investigation and retained Mr. Sonoda as coach.

Understandably the athletes lost confidence in the ability of the AJJF to change the situation, and in December, they submitted their complaint to the Japanese Olympic Committee. Apparently preoccupied with Tokyo’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 2020, however, the JOC interviewed only a few of the women in January.

Belatedly the AJJF decided to launch an investigation committee of outside experts, overhaul the women’s team coaching staff, set up a “support station” to listen to complaints from women athletes and try to appoint women as board members and the coach.

In the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, there are moves to enact a law to set up a third-party organization to investigate and prevent abuse and violence in the sports world. While this action is welcome, it should not be used as a means to help Tokyo win its Olympic bid. Efforts must focus on promoting healthy sports activities across Japan.