Japan Olympic Committee Widens Probe After Judo Athletes Abused

The Japanese Olympic Committee will widen an investigation into violence in other sports after a coach on the national women’s judo league said he will resign over abuse by trainers, including beatings with bamboo rods.

After identifying and punishing judo trainers who participated in the abuse, officials will broaden their investigation to include other Japanese sports leagues, said Masato Mizuno, vice president of the country’s Olympic committee.

“We’ll investigate whether anything happened in other sports,” Mizuno said in an interview yesterday. He said he hasn’t heard of any other specific reports of abuse outside of the women’s judo league.

The head coach of the national women’s judo team, Ryuji Sonoda, said on Thursday that he would resign after the league confirmed allegations that athletes were slapped, kicked and beaten with bamboo swords, the Asahi newspaper reported in its English-language edition. All Japan Judo Federation President Haruki Uemura also announced his resignation from his post as an athletic training director with the national Olympic committee.

The allegations of abuse by Sonoda and other coaches were originally detailed in a December complaint by 15 judo athletes, including a medalist at the London Olympics, to the Japanese Olympic Committee, the Asahi reported, citing unidentified committee and judo federation officials.

‘Adversity Creates Character’

The abuse is consistent with a pattern of violence within Japanese sports, where an authoritarian culture allows coaches to beat their athletes in the name of training, said Lee Thompson, a professor of sports sociology at Tokyo’s Waseda University.

“There’s the idea that adversity creates character and so the coach is trying to create this adversity for the student,” Thompson said. “At least this is some of the justification for it. I think what actually happens is people get angry and they do what was done to them.”

A 17-year-old captain of a high-school basketball team in Osaka hanged himself in December after telling his mother that he had been beaten 30 to 40 times, Kyodo news service reported on Jan. 12. The coach said he had slapped the teen “to make the team stronger,” Kyodo said, citing Osaka’s board of education. The report did not identify the teen or the coach.

In 2007, 17-year-old sumo trainee Takashi Saito died after being beaten with beer bottles and a baseball bat at his wrestling stable. The former master of the stable, Junichi Yamamoto, was convicted in May 2009 in Saito’s death by a court that ruled he had ordered three senior wrestlers to mete out the abuse as part of his training.

Mizuno said that any trainers found to have beaten athletes would be disciplined and that the organization would work to prevent the recurrence of any abuse.

Although no members of the International Olympic Committee reviewing Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 games have expressed reservations about the judo violence, Japan’s committee was working to show that it will not tolerate any abuse by trainers, Mizuno said.

“We have to train or motivate athletes without using violence,” he said.

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