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Nippon Sport Science University fires ekiden director over violence against students

Kyodo

Nippon Sport Science University announced Wednesday it had dismissed the director of its ekiden road relay team over power harassment and violence against its members, the latest in a string of scandals that have rocked the country’s sporting world.

According to the university, a private school known for cultivating world-class athletes, Masaaki Watanabe is alleged to have kicked students’ legs and grabbed students by the collar.

Although Watanabe admitted to the allegations in general, the 55-year-old was subsequently dismissed for “lacking aptitude for student guidance,” since he did not fully recognize his behavior as inappropriate.

“We completely prohibit acts of violence, so this is truly regrettable,” university president Koji Gushiken said. “We will make efforts to better train our students, teachers, and faculty members.”

Watanabe, who also graduated from the university, took up the job in March 2015. He was handed a suspension for repeated violence to his athletes at a high school in Aichi Prefecture, where he had worked until March 2013.

Nippon Sport Science University has participated in the Tokyo-Hakone collegiate ekiden — the most prominent university relay race of the year — for 70 straight years and has won 10 titles, including five straight between 1969 and 1973.

It finished fourth in 2018, the 94th edition of the race, which is held annually on Jan. 2 and 3 and broadcast live on national television.

The university is well known in Japan for its notable alumni and has produced over 10 Olympic gold medalists, including three-time gold medal gymnast Kohei Uchimura, five-time gold medalist Mitsuo Tsukahara, and Kosuke Kitajima who won four Olympic gold medals.

Current students include gymnast Kenzo Shirai, who won gold in the team event during the 2016 Rio Games and reigning world champion judoka Hifumi Abe.

The Japanese sports world has been rocked by a spate of scandals, including four national basketball team members being sent home from the recent Asian Games for paying for sex, and gymnastics officials being suspended over the alleged harassment of 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympian Sae Miyakawa.