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Nihon University cheerleader harassed by coach considered suicide

This file photo taken on May 25, 2018, shows the Nihon University Kaikan building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A Nihon University competitive cheerleading club member harassed by a former head coach considered suicide as the instructor allegedly refused to let her quit the group, the student told the Mainichi Shimbun in an interview.

Experts are raising concern over the deep-rooted custom in Japanese university sports clubs to ban members from quitting even if they have legitimate reasons.

According to the female club member and others, freshmen gathered at a camp in March prior to admission, and were told by the ex-coach that "members are not allowed to leave the club." If someone did leave, the coach stressed to all the other members, "Whatever happens to any of you, it is impossible to quit the club."

A note spelling out the female club member's feelings, disclosed by her family on Aug. 9, said, "I wanted to resign from the club (after getting harassed), but I didn't have any choice because I was being ordered by the coach (to stay). I then started thinking of committing suicide." She also worried that if she quit, her junior colleagues in high school would not gain entry to Nihon University.

Professor Hidenori Tomozoe at Waseda University, who studies sport ethics and sport education, pointed out, "It is a typical bad habit of Japanese school sports clubs, for coaches to put tremendous pressure on members to make them act according to their desire, even though members are supposed to be given free will to leave the club. Those especially admitted to the university upon recommendations, are frequently forced to stay in sports clubs as there is an unspoken -- and wrong -- rule that leaving the group is identical to leaving the university."

While also considering the dirty tackle incident involving the Nihon University American football team in which former coaches allegedly instructed a linebacker to commit the act, Tomozoe pointed out, "The concept of prioritizing school clubs and following orders has become a huge social issue. We have to remember that fundamentally sports clubs are just one part of academic learning."

The former head coach apologized to the female club member in July. She then replied in writing to questions from club members, "I never said that there is a rule that club members are not allowed to leave under any circumstances. There could have been problems in how I talked and explained myself, if I conveyed such a nuance."

The Mainichi Shimbun asked for an interview with the former coach, but the university's public relations office replied, "We cannot respond to inquiries including whether there was harassment or not." The coach was dismissed on Aug. 9, "because it was judged that the guidance of students may be affected," according to the university.

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

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