Japan’s Olympic female judoka were beaten with bamboo swords and slapped by their coaches, officials said yesterday, weeks after a schoolboy suicide sparked debate over corporal punishment.
A 15-strong group of judo practitioners complained to the Japanese Olympic Committee last month that they had been subjected to physical punishment by the team’s head coach.
The group, which included athletes who took part in the London Olympics, charges that head coach Ryuji Sonoda routinely abused them, slapping them in the face and hitting them with thick wooden swords like those used in the Japanese martial art of kendo.
They also complained that some were forced to compete in matches while injured, local reports said.
“We have asked the All Japan Judo Federation [AJJF] to investigate the case and improve their methods if the charges are true,” a committee official said.
AJJF head Koshi Onozawa said the federation has admonished Sonoda and other coaches, who had admitted several of the allegations.
“We received information in late September that Mr Sonoda, the head coach of the female national team, might have been physically bullying athletes,” Onozawa told a press conference in Tokyo. “Our executive office took this seriously and questioned both him and athletes, discovering the charges were largely true.”
The federation told Sonoda and other coaches that they must mend their ways and “will face a harsher punishment if a similar incident happens in the future,” Onozawa said.
The case comes weeks after a Japanese high-school student killed himself after repeated physical abuse from his basketball coach, an incident that has provoked a bout of national hand-wringing over the way children are disciplined.
Referring to yesterday’s claims, Japanese Minister for Education and Sports Hakubun Shimomura told reporters that a rethink of sports coaching was required.
Under a law dating from 1947, teachers are not permitted to physically discipline their charges and many react with horror to the idea. However, there are no statutory penalties for teachers who do so.