Abused judoka won’t stop at one resignation, lawyer warns


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.

  • reesedorrycott

    When you abuse your students, who trust you to teach them correctly, then you are no longer an instructor. You are an animal.

    • I agree, I am a black belt in several martial arts and instructed many. I would prefer to have 15 minutes with former coach Sonoda and teach him a lesson he will not forget but then I would be the same as him. Japan needs to overhaul it’s entire thinking about female athletes and treat them equally, which they are not now doing.

  • Hillel Weintraub

    The courage of these women to speak out strongly is truly commendable. Let’s hope they will serve as an example for others in all areas of Japanese society where those in positions of power – teachers, coaches, bosses – use that power to mentally or physically bully those learning or working with them. This includes those who watch silently, standing by saying nothing while such abuse goes on.

  • itoshima2012

    This kind of problem is widespread in Japan. It’s not “only” a problem in sports. I know this country now for over 15 years and I encounter this kind of “no see, no hear no say” attitude very often. The fact that they are coming forward is encouraging but the powers to be are still very very strong. Look at Fukushima, it7s basically the same problem, many people want to come forward but they are suppressed until they give up…. hopefully Japan’s younger generation will not tolerate this anymore and speak out!