Former Japan Wrestling Federation development director Kazuhito Sakae, who resigned in April for power-harassing four-time Olympic wrestling champion Kaori Icho, issued a public apology on Thursday.
“I would like to express my deepest apologies to Icho and her coach (Chikara) Tanabe,” Sakae said.
“I will treat people with respect at all times so I never make the same mistake again,” he said as he bowed his head in apology in a news conference.
It was the first time Sakae spoke publicly since a third-party panel of lawyers confirmed on April 6 four cases of harassment against the 34-year-old Icho by Sakae, including one concerning a remark he made when Icho joined a training session of wrestlers representing Japan.
According to the report by the third-party body, Sakae told Icho, “How dare you wrestle in front of me?”
Sakae also told Tanabe to stop coaching Icho when she went to Russia for the 2010 world championships, and prevented Icho from using a Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department training facility shortly before the 2016 Rio Olympics.
On Thursday, the 57-year-old, who was appointed head coach of the women’s national team in 2004, explained that he had wanted Tanabe to spend more time overseeing his other wrestlers and it was lack of communication that led to the “misunderstanding.”
Sakae resigned as the federation’s director to take responsibility, but has stayed on as the head coach of the Shigakkan University wrestling team. He resumed office on Thursday when the national championships got underway at Komazawa Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Despite growing calls for him to step down as coach, Sakae hinted that he intends to stay in the game, saying he has apologized to the wrestlers for the anxiety caused by the scandal and asked them to turn their attention to training and competition.
“At Shigakkan University there are wrestlers aiming for the Olympics. I’m continuing (as coach) if that’s their wish and I can contribute in any way. I do need to think about how best to maintain my relationship with them,” he said.
The JWF agreed earlier in a board meeting to remove him from his managing director post.