Judo coach to resign over alleged beatings

Sonoda admits training approach before games was 'one-sided'


Women’s judo coach Ryuji Sonoda announced Thursday that he plans to resign in light of allegations that he physically abused members of the Olympic team during training.

“It will be difficult for me to go any further with the training of the team,” Sonoda said at a news conference at the Kodokan in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo.

He said he would submit his resignation to the All Japan Judo Federation in the near future.

It was Sonoda’s first public comments on the scandal, which broke Tuesday.

“I deeply regret that my behavior, words and actions have caused trouble,” the former world judo champion said.

“I thought that I would be able to maintain a trusting relationship, but that was a one-sided approach.”

On Tuesday, sources said that 15 top female judoka sent a joint complaint to the Japan Olympic Committee at the end of 2012 claiming they had been harassed and beaten by Sonoda and other coaching staff at a training camp ahead of to the London Olympics.

The federation confirmed the accusations, which included verbal abuse, kicking, shoving and strikes with bamboo swords.

Sonoda has been reprimanded but the federation said Wednesday it had planned to retain him.

The Metropolitan Police Department said it has opened an investigation into the allegations against Sonoda, who is a member of the MPD’s education and training division. Sonoda joined the force in 1996 and was dispatched to the judo federation in 2004.

Earlier Thursday, sports minister Hakubun Shimomura requested that the JOC launch another inquiry into the circumstances surrounding accusations of physical abuse by Sonoda.

“We would like the JOC to do a fresh independent investigation into this matter,” Shimomura told JOC President Tsunekazu Takeda upon the latter’s visit to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry to explain the incidents.

Shimomura has also asked the JOC to go a step further with an investigation into other Olympic sports to uncover other possible cases of abuse.

The JOC called an emergency meeting of its directors the same day to address the matter.

Shimomura told Takeda to bear in mind the Olympic charter, which clearly prohibits physical violence in sports.

This arguably could be viewed as a political ploy as Tokyo tries to gather steam in its bid to host the 2020 Summer Games, meaning Sonoda, who won the world championships in 1993, will likely be forced to step down anyway under the eye of the International Olympic Committee.

  • Equalizer

    So That’s it?!? Not only is he NOT arrested but he is allowed to resign, no doubt in the hope that the incident is forgotten and he can escape jail…If the justice does not seize this case, it will put the credibility of the Justice Minister and, possibly, that of the new Prime Minister in jeopardy. Not to mention that the message that will be perceived is that coaches can abuse athletes, especially if they are females, in total impunity. Japanese Media keep referring this incident as a case of “power harassment” instead of calling it what it really is: Assault. Plain and simple. Disgraceful! No wonder why bullying is a national sport in this country. Everybody does it: teachers, sumo stable masters, judo and basketball coaches, company executives.

    • hheatherkeaton@aol.com

      you have to consider the culture Equalizer-san. The country is against physical violence, but with 0.01% crime rate and the fact his is a senior citizen, celebrity, and admitted guilt, of course his only punishment will be resigning. The fact he has lost his good name and reputation is punishment enough.

      • I can NOT believe a comment like hheatherkeaton. Maybe YOU should find out how it feels to get stuck in the chest with a wooden stick.

      • mbarnstaple

        Sonoda is no senior citizen. He was born in 1973, making him 40 years old. Also, since he’s also (supposedly) a police officer, shouldn’t he be held to a higher standard?

      • Equalizer

        I wish I could be as understanding as you on such issues. I’m seeing this from a totally “Westerner” point of view. Please tell me what you mean by “senior citizen”? To me, a senior citizen is an elderly person and “senior citizen” is a respectful acknowledgement. Coach Sonoda is not elderly. You appear to use “senior citizen” to imply a perceived superior social rank because of his celebrity status. Obviously, it is up to the Law to decide what punishment, if any, is appropriate in this case. As far as I am concerned, loss of good name and reputation is not punishment. Admission of guilt is courageous and should be taken into account but it should not, in cases of physical violence or more criminal acts, cancel punishment. What kind of message are we sending to the people who are supposed to be protected by the Justice system? I feel the absence of involvement from the Justice Ministry is tantamount to cancelling punishment. Do you really think that people should accept that? Would you accept that if it was your daughter who had been assaulted? How about this one: a foreigner (let’s say a US soldier – since this is a hot topic at the moment) punches a Japanese citizen ONE time. The justice system steps in, he gets arrested, loses his career, reputation and his good name and gets thrown in a japanese jail. From what I have seen, no one in Japan believes that this is too tough of a punishment. Now, here’s a (Japanese) coach who, apparently OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME, REPEATEDLY physically assaults his females students, and he gets…a slap on the wrist and “we are not going to fire you but please don’t do it again” warning from the Japan Judo Federation. No word from the Minister of Justice, at least not yet. What if Coach Sonoda was a foreigner? What do you think would have happened?

  • Would it be possible to give back a “severe corporal punishment” with bamboo sword for instance, and in public obviously, to Mister Takeda to give him back a part of the pain and humiliation he has inflicted to these athlets? Not only this man is to be FIRED, he has to be beaten and broken PHYSICALLY IN PUBLIC. This kind of behaviour is absolutely unforgivenable. And unfortunately Japanese people are too kind to accept and bend over systematicaly in front all of that kind of abusing behaviour.
    Any physical punishment from a teacher, trainer, coach, has to be followed by a kind of “retorsion” at last 10 equal to the pain inflicted to the victim.

    • Verbals

      “An eye for an eye and soon we shall all be blind”.

  • Nida

    Sometimes the reason why malpractices are exposed is not so much to condemn the doer but to let people realize something’s got to change. It’s actually good, but I still symphatize with Sonoda because his wrongdoings got the authorities’ attention while others got away. We all make mistakes, sometimes serious ones. What’s important is to learn from them.

    • Equalizer

      “We all make mistakes, sometimes serious ones. What’s important is to learn from them”. I share your view. However, I have no sympathy for Sonoda. He was trusted to instruct students, not to physically abuse them. I feel he should not be getting away with this so easily.

  • Marty

    This is so unfair. Hitting or lightly kicking Judoka, Aikidoka and pretty much every other budo is part of the training. It is designed, as this coach said, to build character and mental strength. The kicks and slaps are not intended to be hurtful. The coach has a “love” for his players and wants them to be great Judoka. Instead they repay his kindness with complaints. Alas, the Japanese spirit of “Gambatte” is lost. Young people today are mentally weak. Sonoda sensei, in my view, is a hero, a man who cares about his Judo students.