The Yomiuri ShimbunEven though he was a mentor, his conduct of trampling on the pride of an athlete cannot be forgiven. This is an extremely disappointing state of affairs for the sports world.
It has been acknowledged that Kazuhito Sakae, the development director of the Japan Wrestling Federation, abused his power and harassed athlete Kaori Icho.
Icho won four consecutive Olympic gold medals and has also received the People’s Honor Award. It is astonishing that an athlete who represents Japan was subjected to repeated harassment by the director.
Sakae submitted his resignation to the federation’s board of directors, which was accepted. His inappropriate words and deeds brought about a situation of unprecedented seriousness, so his resignation should be considered reasonable.
A person close to Icho submitted written denunciations of so-called power harassment to the Cabinet Office’s Public Interest Commission. A third-party panel of the federation investigated the situation and acknowledged four complaints of harassment toward Icho and another person.
In 2010, Icho moved away from the university where she was being trained under Sakae’s leadership. At a training camp held shortly afterward for female wrestlers representing Japan, Sakae told Icho, “How dare you wrestle in front of me.”
It is quite reasonable that the third-party panel harshly criticized Sakae, saying his remark was an “expression of his narrow-minded feelings akin to unjust resentment.”
Icho was not chosen to represent Japan at the Asian Games held that year, despite having met the selection criteria. An athlete whose track record was not as good as Icho’s was sent. The third-party panel pointed out that the selection process was “unclear.”
Guide athletes to improve
It cannot be helped that the selection of representative athletes, which is supposed to be fair, is believed to have been distorted by Sakae’s personal grudge.
Having also fostered other athletes, including Saori Yoshida, Sakae had built up a solid position as a mentor. This track record may have led to his arrogance.
Despite having been a mentor, he ought to deal respectfully with such superb athletes as Icho. On that basis, he would advise her on how to improve further. This is how a mentor should be.
Even though she was subjected to unfair harassment, Icho won gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Her strength of mind is nothing short of tremendous.
The federation bears a grave responsibility for failing to stop Sakae’s actions. The federation initially denied the alleged harassment. Federation President Tomiaki Fukuda said, “We have modified our recognition regarding the extent of what can be considered as power harassment.” The federation has too inaccurate an understanding of power harassment.
Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it is a matter of urgency for the federation to rebuild itself.
In the world of sports, managers and coaches often directly train their athletes. Should an instructor attempt to subjugate athletes, this would give rise to power harassment. Athletic organizations and mentors should reflect on themselves.