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Japan's amateur boxing community still faces crisis after Yamane quits

Yoshio Tsuruki, left, head of the Niigata prefectural amateur boxing federation, speaks at a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 8, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Despite the resignation on Aug. 8 of Japan Amateur Boxing Federation (JABF) President Akira Yamane, the federation still faces the difficult task of getting to the bottom of serious allegations such as misuse of public subsidies and intervention into match judgment.

The federation also has to separate itself from the questionable legacy of Yamane, who had a long-term relationship with a criminal gang leader.

Many people are worried that the federation's failure to make a turnaround may block Japanese boxers from competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

A third-party panel to be established by the JABF by Aug. 20 will investigate 12 items in a letter of complaints submitted to the Sports Agency, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and other authorities by 333 people in the amateur boxing community. Yamane has acknowledged misappropriating 2.4 million yen in subsidies from the Japan Sports Council, but denies having intervened in match judgments, including those favorable for boxers from his home prefecture of Nara in western Japan.

Other complaints extending to Yamane include the federation's demand for excessive wining and dining of its officials at locations where boxing competitions were held, and a lack of transparency over an "Olympic fund" the federation set up in April.

The Olympic committee and the Japan Sport Association, which is in charge of sports promotion, are demanding that the boxing federation report the results of the third-party panel's probe by Sept. 28, and list ways to improve the situation.

The JOC bylaws stipulate four types of punishment for member organizations that violate its regulations: warnings, reduction or suspension of subsidies, membership suspension, and expulsion. Athletes hoping to compete in the Olympics need recommendations from organizations that are members of or are certified by the JOC. If the JABF is suspended or expelled from the committee, athletes under its wing may not be able to participate in the 2020 Games.

Teruo Yoshimori, managing director of the boxing federation, disclosed that a participant in an emergency meeting of JABF board members on Aug. 7 told Yamane to consider how federation officials or athletes could avoid a "tough outcome" -- an indirect request for him to resign.

Meanwhile, the press conference in which Yamane announced his resignation ended in just three minutes, leaving much room for speculation about the former chief's future actions.

Yoshio Tsuruki, head of the Niigata prefectural amateur boxing federation, who represented people filing complaints against Yamane, said he suspects Yamane may remain a JABF board member or try to exert influence as a federation member. His group has demanded Yamane's expulsion from the boxing organization and resignation of all board members. The group is poised to file a criminal complaint if Yamane manages to keep his authority inside the federation.

Yoshimori explained that even though he did not confirm what Yamane meant by announcing his "resignation," Yoshimori took it as resigning from all posts Yamane occupied in the federation. But many people in the boxing community are worried that Yamane will manage to keep his grip on the federation to a certain extent even after his departure.

Tsuruki's group revealed at a press conference on Aug. 8 what they said was a voice recording of Yamane's remarks supportive of boxers from Nara Prefecture in close matches. Yamane has denied intervening in match judgments to support Nara athletes, but Yoshimori acknowledged the same day that some referees might have been affected by the words of the former federation chief.

People associated with the boxing federation worry that the upcoming investigation by the third-party panel will unearth many new allegations as suspicion grows over the widespread negative effects of Yamane's heavy-handed management.

Yoshimori said most of the JABF board members have indicated they are ready to resign. Until new directors are selected, Kotaro Morimasa, vice president and director in charge of accounting, will serve as acting president. Tsuruki said he wants a "fair organization where opinions from prefectural federations are respected.

-- Boxing chief perceived as holding absolute power

Yamane played a major role in promoting boxing in Nara Prefecture. Joining the prefectural boxing federation in the 1980s following his professional boxing career, he has turned Nara into a "boxing kingdom" by finding good boxers and expanding the local base of competition. He became a board member of the amateur boxing federation in 1991, and served as a senior board member of the predecessor of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) for eight years from 1994.

His international boxing network is said to have been woven with extensive overseas trips paid for out of his own pocket. Yamane once said he invested 43 years of his life as a man into boxing.

Yamane apparently began a relationship with the head of a gang group affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime syndicate in around 1960. Yamane is believed to have established a strong position in the boxing community supported by links with antisocial organizations, although he has insisted he never let the gang head get involved in the management of boxing competitions.

According to the former gang head, who is now 81, his friend and company owner paid for the wining and dining of Gafur Rakhimov, who now serves as acting head of the AIBA, in 2001 when an east Asian boxing competition was held in Osaka in western Japan.

Rakhimov, an Uzbek national, is suspected of involvement in the heroin trade, and he has been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a supporter of a Eurasian transnational criminal syndicate. An International Olympic Committee spokesperson reportedly said the IOC was "extremely worried" about Rakhimov's appointment as AIBA's interim president earlier this year.

"We need someone like Yamane to deal with Mafia-like personalities," said the former gang chief in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

Yamane assumed the JABF presidency in 2011 and launched a drive to send Japanese boxers overseas for international matches. A positive outcome from this initiative was the winning of a gold medal by Ryota Murata at the 2012 London Olympics -- the first Olympic boxing gold in 48 years for Japan.

There was one occasion at the Olympics where Yamane indicated his "power." Satoshi Shimizu, who won the first bronze medal for Japan in 44 years, almost lost his match in the second round when the referee did not recognize that he downed his opponent six times. The coaches' policy was not to complain, but Yamane instructed them to go ahead 30 minutes before the deadline for filing a complaint.

A then AIBA executive, after watching the match's footage, said the recording showed Shimizu won the competition, and the referee's decision was overturned. Yamane was close to the AIBA executive from South Korea, and a person familiar with the situation said the result appeared as "nothing but an expression of Yamane's political influence."

With these achievements at the Olympics under his belt, Yamane was promoted to the position of "lifetime president," although the JABF bylaws do not specify such a position. He appointed his eldest son Masamori, 53, to the federation's board and gave him important assignments. Yamane went out to turn the federation into an entity where people felt they could not speak out against the president, who continued to speak and act for people close to him.

In response to Yamane's announcement of resignation, Sports Agency chief Daichi Suzuki said, "This is not the end. I want a healthy organization that can discuss wrong decisions."

(Japanese original by Atsushi Kurasawa, Yuta Kobayashi and Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department; Mitsumasa Takemoto, Osaka City News Department; and Tetsuji Kishi, Osaka Sports News Department)

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