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Alleged harassment of Olympic medalist Icho shakes Japanese wrestling world

Kaori Icho (Mainichi)
Kazuhito Sakae (Mainichi)

An anonymous complaint against Japan Wrestling Federation development director Kazuhito Sakae over his alleged obstruction of four-time Olympic medalist Kaori Icho's training is sending shockwaves through the wrestling world ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun published a story on March 1 saying that related third parties had submitted the complaint to the Cabinet Office in January. While the federation released a statement denying all claims, it shone a light on a lack of governance within the organization.

The disruption by the 57-year-old director is said to have begun after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when Icho, 33, moved training locations from her alma mater Shigakkan University in Obu, Aichi Prefecture -- where Sakae was a coach -- to Tokyo. There, she trained under Chikara Tanabe, 42, the bronze medalist in the men's 55-kilogram freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Athens Olympics, alongside male athletes. One of the locations where she practiced was a Metropolitan Police Department facility where Tanabe served as a coach at the time. He was also the coach of the Japanese Olympic men's freestyle athletes.

After training with Tanabe, Icho went on to win four consecutive Olympic titles. When she received the People's Honor Award by the Japanese government in 2016, Icho emphasized the effectiveness of training with male wrestlers.

Regarding this period in her training, the written complaint submitted by third parties familiar with the matter through legal representative Yoshinori Sadatomo and the statement released by the federation differ drastically.

According to the letter, Sakae told Tanabe not to coach Icho as she was not complying with Sakae. At some point during team Japan's training camp for athletes from 2012 to 2016, Sakae reportedly threatened Tanabe in a loud voice, saying, "If you won't listen to what I say, then get out!"

The wrestling federation, on the other hand, stressed that Tanabe's role is to coach male athletes above all else, and warned him not to let his training of Icho interfere with that duty.

The letter was submitted to the Public Interest Commission of the Cabinet Office, the organization that certifies the Japan Wrestling Federation as a public interest incorporated foundation subject to tax breaks. The three authors of the letter are identified as A, B and C, who say they are Olympic medalists or Olympians.

"Why did they not come to the federation first? Why they would go directly to a third party like the Cabinet Office is beyond me," lamented Japan Wrestling Federation deputy chairman and former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hiroshi Hase.

Following the reports of the letter, Icho made a statement through her affiliated company that she "is in no way related to the complaint," but was mum over whether the harassment took place or not.

Sakae, meanwhile denied the allegations, and the Cabinet Office made a statement that it would "confirm the details of the situation."

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