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Nihon U. cheerleading coach harassed female student: school human rights office

A female member of the Nihon University competitive cheerleading club, who was certified to have been harassed by her head coach, shows a message on a cellphone. The text was sent from the school regarding the American football club's dirty tackle incident. (Mainichi)

Nihon University's human rights body has confirmed that the head coach of the school's competitive cheerleading club harassed a female member, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The student was driven into mental distress and was diagnosed as suffering from an adjustment disorder and was unable to attend the university. She sought the arbitration of the university's Health and Physical Education Council, which oversees many of the school's athletic clubs including the cheerleading club, but was turned down, according to people familiar with the case.

The latest case comes on the heels of the dirty tackle scandal involving the university's American football team. Its head coach Masato Uchida and another coach resigned after they were accused of ordering the foul play, which led to the team being suspended from the collegiate league in the Kanto region in eastern Japan. Uchida was handed a lifetime ban from the league, and a punitive dismissal from the school.

The harassment incident involving the cheerleading club is yet another indication that power harassment and a lack of governance is ongoing at the university.

The head coach in question assumed her current position in the 2015 academic year. According to the female club member and others, the coach scolded her in front of other members on Feb. 5 this year, saying she asked administrative staff to cancel a training session on a day with heavy snow -- an assertion that was not true.

Before and after this incident, the coach got angry at the female club member because she was wearing the shirt of her high school, which has a competitive cheerleading club. "You are causing shame to the university. Remove the shirt right away," the coach was quoted as saying.

In addition, the coach suspected that the club member was lying about the pace of her recovery from an injury and tried to force her to attend a competition. The cheerleader was criticized by other club members and was psychologically pushed to even think about killing herself.

The victim sought the help of the university's Health and Physical Education Council to arbitrate the conflict between her and the coach. But the council, which had Uchida as its executive director, eventually did not take up the case, telling her to talk to the coach directly.

The woman then went to the school's organization for the protection of human rights in March. According to university officials, the body conducted an investigation and certified that the head coach's words and actions constituted harassment using her superior position against the student. The finding was not made public.

The head coach apologized to the club member in July. The university's public relations officials replied to a Mainichi Shimbun inquiry that they cannot answer questions, including one on whether the incident occurred. The head coach remains in her position.

In the dirty tackle incident involving the Nihon University American football team, a third-party investigation panel set up by the university criticized in late July that Uchida's management style as "dictatorial" and "harassing." The committee also pointed out that Uchida was allowed to act the way he did because he was also the executive director of the Health and Physical Education Council, which was supposed to monitor the football club.

Competitive cheerleaders use gymnastic formations called "stunts" and actions called "tumbling" including summersaults in their group performances. The Nihon University club was established in 2002, and its best result in the national championship in the last 10 years was fourth.

(Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami and Yuji Semba, City News Department)

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