Four-time Olympic wrestling champion Kaori Icho was allegedly subjected to repeated harassment by the Japan Wrestling Federation’s development director after winning her second gold medal in Beijing in 2008, a lawyers’ office said Thursday.
A person close to the matter lodged a complaint against Kazuhito Sakae, who has helped Japanese wrestlers win medals, by submitting a letter to a Cabinet Office committee through a lawyer in January, it said.
Sakae denied the allegation and said, “I have worked very hard to help her four-peat at the Olympics, I don’t know why this is happening.” He added that he would talk with the federation to decide his response.
Icho said in a statement that she was “not involved in any way” in the lodged complaint, but she “would consider providing explanations if there is a formal inquiry from proper organizations.”
“I have nothing else to say, but I, Kaori Icho, as a person involved in wrestling, am always thinking about promoting wrestling,” it said.
The revelation comes as Japan gears up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Icho, who hopes to pursue a coaching career in the future, coached in Iran last year and has said she is undecided on competing in the next Olympics.
“If there is a need, we would deal with the matter appropriately,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a regular news conference.
Given the nature of the wrestling federation as a public interest incorporated foundation, the top government spokesman said it “needs to be operated under proper governance.”
Hiroshi Hase, deputy chairman of the federation and former sports minister, said he intends to confirm what actually happened.
“I basically think it’s something that will be settled once the development director and us and Icho sit at the same table and talk,” said Hase.
The complaint said Sakae began harassing Icho after she moved her training base to Tokyo from Aichi Prefecture against Sakae’s will after winning consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.
Sakae ordered Icho’s coach to stop working with her when she went to Russia for the 2010 world championships and when he refused, Sakae told him to leave if he could not follow his orders, according to the complaint. Icho won another gold in London in 2012.
It also alleged that Sakae repeatedly harassed Icho by preventing her from using a Metropolitan Police Department training facility shortly before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she became the first female athlete to win four consecutive Olympic titles in an individual event.
The federation released a statement Thursday that said it has “never obstructed or limited Icho’s training.”
The organization said it told a men’s freestyle coach to be careful not to be negligent in developing male athletes by coaching Icho. The federation also said it told Icho to work with the coach only once he had finished group training, but said it never stopped her from joining its training camp.
“Our federation has never urged the wrestling club at the Metropolitan Police Department to prevent Icho from taking part in its practices or urged the coach to be removed from coaching,” the statement said.
After her history-making performance in Rio, Icho was bestowed later in 2016 with the People’s Honor Award, given to individuals and groups for achievements in sports, entertainment and culture in Japan.
Last year, she also received a Guinness World Records certificate for her Olympic feats.