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Former Japanese Olympian continues fight against lewd photos of athletes

Kana Ichikawa, a coach of Chukyo University's track and field team, watches student athletes during training in the Aichi Prefecture city of Toyota, central Japan, on July 20, 2022. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A former Olympian now working as a Japanese university track and field coach is determined to protect female athletes from unscrupulous photographers looking to capture sexualized images of them without their consent.

    Kana Ichikawa, 31, who began to coach this past spring at her alma mater Chukyo University, remembers being photographed not only at competition venues but also at warm-up facilities without her permission.

    While being cheered on by fans during her running career, she had to be aware of photographers potentially lurking with the aim of taking shots of female athletes that zoom in on breasts and buttocks in a lewd way.

    Ichikawa was even alerted by Japan's athletics governing body after a photo of her was published in an adult magazine.

    "I had no clue at all," Ichikawa recalled in an interview with Kyodo News. "I've seen things differently since I became an instructor. I feel obliged to protect my athletes."

    In late May at a university track and field meet, Ichikawa noticed a man taking photos from the stands, training his telephoto lens on a female athlete who had fallen after crossing the finish line.

    Ichikawa confronted the man and demanded he delete the photos before handing him over to organizers.

    "Athletes are caught off guard after giving their all in a race," Ichikawa said. "It's terrible to take advantage of that kind of situation."

    It has been two years since seven domestic sporting bodies, including the Japanese Olympic Committee, issued a joint statement with the aim of preventing surreptitious photos from being taken and shared.

    Victims complained to the JOC after they discovered photos of themselves shared on social media with sexually explicit captions.

    Ichikawa, who ran in relay events at the London Olympics in 2012 and the world championships three years later in Beijing, has welcomed the joint statement's effects.

    "I've seen some change in people's awareness, and an atmosphere has been created for people to talk to those who appear suspicious," she said.

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