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Father of injured Kwansei Gakuin player speaks out in wake of illegal tackle scandal

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Yasutoshi Okuno, the father of the Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback who was illegally hit from behind by a Nihon University defensive end during their exhibition game on May 6 in Tokyo, hopes the defender can begin playing football again.

“I have kept saying this from the beginning, but I hope to see him playing against my son again on the field, of course fairly next time,” Okuno, an Osaka City council member, said during an exclusive interview with The Japan Times on Monday at the Fuji Television Network, Inc. office in Tokyo. “He received enough of a public reprimand after he held a news conference and apologized. He said he didn’t have the right to resume playing football, but he will want to play again if he still loves football.

“But to make it happen, (Nihon University president Hidetoshi) Tanaka should publicly take accountability, not through a statement on the school’s website, but by making an appearance in public,” Okuno said.

Tanaka has yet to personally apologize in public but published a statement admitting responsibility on the school’s website on Friday.

Okuno, who asked that neither player involved in the incident be named in this article, has publicly blamed Nihon University for the illegal tackle incident and filed criminal charges against Uchida, former assistant coach Tsutomu Inoue and the defender. But he also called for leniency for the defender.

“There has been no reaction from Nihon University,” Okuno said during the interview, one of the few times he has faced the media. “I received an offer of apology from the vice president, but it is Tanaka who should apologize.

“It’s true the president doesn’t necessarily have to apologize for one student’s misconduct, but the illegal tackle was made under the coaches’ orders. That is what allowed it to happen. It’s not a case of individual responsibility anymore. Nihon University is to blame.”

Okuno’s attitude toward the defender changed when the Nihon University athlete and his parents visited Okuno’s house in Osaka less than two weeks after the incident and apologized. It was then that Okuno was convinced that the coaches forced the defender to make the illegal tackle.

“That could have happened to any of the players on the team,” Okuno said. “It’s very sad if we left him as the victim of coaches. It is not him who should be blamed.”

The Kantoh Collegiate Football Association on July 31 decided that it would not lift the season-long ban that it had imposed on the Nihon University Phoenix team. Accordingly, the Phoenix will forfeit all seven games in Top 8 league action this year and be automatically demoted to the second-tier Big 8 division.

Okuno has been asking for a meeting with Tanaka since June. He made a phone call to the school on July 31 but received an email denying his request on Friday.

“If Tanaka thinks he took accountability with the statement on the web, I would say that is wrong. It’s too sad,” Okuno said. “If he had apologized much earlier, this problem could have been resolved. Or his reputation may have even become better by showing a manly attitude.”

The 52-year-old Okuno insists Nihon University needs to be investigated by an auditing firm so that every issue the school has will be disclosed. He also hopes that a body similar to the NCAA, which governs college sports in the U.S., is established in Japan soon.

“We have had issues in American football, wrestling, handball, and now boxing,” Okuno said. “We should make clear what kind of issues each sports organization has right now in Japan. I hope a Japanese version of NCAA is the organization that can solve those issues.

“A Japanese version of the NCAA can encourage each sports organization to reflect on itself and bring these issues to the table. If we do this quickly, our sports society will become a very fair one by the time Tokyo has the Olympics in 2020.”