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Editorial: Japan Wrestling Federation must break free from outdated mindset

Allegations that four-time Olympic champion in women's wrestling and People's Honor Award recipient Kaori Icho had been subjected to power harassment were found to be true by a panel of attorneys commissioned by the Japan Wrestling Federation to investigate the case.

The panel reported that Kazuhito Sakae, one of the federation's directors, had harassed Icho, who came under Sakae's tutelage when she started high school. From there on, Icho went on to achieve greatness as an athlete, but Sakae's mindset seemed stuck in an outmoded relationship of master and disciple.

In the panel's report, statements made by Sakae such as "How dare you wrestle in front of me?" were recognized as instances of power harassment. Such harassment began when Icho left Shigakkan University in Aichi Prefecture -- where Sakae was coaching -- for Tokyo.

Icho was already in her mid-20s when she left Sakae's mentorship. It was a decision made by an adult, and one that a coach cannot control or overturn. Sakae's desire to manage and restrain his one-time student appears to be what led to power harassment.

Sakae has accomplished much in the women's wrestling world, and has helped wrestlers, including Icho, become Olympic medalists.

As human beings, coaches and athletes are equals. With that said, coaches are there to contribute to athletes' growth. That's even more the case when it comes to educating world-class athletes.

The fact that Icho was denied participation in the 2010 Asian Games despite meeting the criteria for competing in it was also recognized as an instance of power harassment. In this case, the Japan Wrestling Federation bears a heavy responsibility for its permissive approach toward Sakae, who was given free rein over athletes' coaching policies and selection for competing in meets.

Sakae, who oversaw the coaching of wrestlers for the national team, was simultaneously a coach at a university. Such an arrangement brings into question the fairness with which wrestlers were selected for the national team.

When the power harassment complaint was filed, Japan Wrestling Federation President Tomiaki Fukuda denied the allegations. However, once the panel of lawyers submitted their report, Sakae resigned from his post as a federation director. Fukuda, furthermore, changed his tune, saying, "Power harassment has existed for a fairly long time, leading to the latest case." This shows how insufficient an awareness the federation had toward power harassment.

When complaints of physical violence and power harassment were filed by female Olympic judoka in 2013, the judo world made an effort to make reforms.

The wrestling federation has a whistleblower system, but the problem is that the system does not apply to coaches and athletes. The federation must take swift action to prevent recurrences of power harassment, and break free from its old-fashioned ways.

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