Japanese judo tarnished again as world champion Ono and 11 others reprimanded for abuse
Thursday, 12 September 2013
September 12 - Just a month after appointing its new President, the All Japan Judo Federation's (AJJF) quest to clean up the sport in the country of its birth has taken a fresh blow after world champion Shohei Ono and 11 others were reprimanded for physically abusing first-year students at Tenri University in Nara Prefecture.
The 21-year-old, who took the -73kg world title in Rio de Janeiro last month, was one of five senior students to be issued with a 30-day suspension from the university for the abuse, while a further five sophomores and two first-year students - who are believed to have been coerced into physically abusing fellow students by the seniors - were also punished for their roles in the scandal.
"I deeply regret what I've done," admitted Ono, who was additionally stripped of his captaincy of the judo team and handed an official warning by the university.
"I apologise for my actions, especially with the All Japan Judo Federation trying to crack down on physical abuse in the sport."
Officials from the university have revealed that 28 first-year students were ordered to a dormitory where they were kicked and slapped - one student suffered a ruptured eardrum, by a group of senior students in May for "lacking spirit" during a practice session.
Ono admitted to physically abusing fellow students twice, but insisted he was not involved in the aforementioned incident.
He also claimed that he could not prevent the abuse being dished out by his teammates.
The student that sustained the eardrum injury was also beaten on the buttocks with a wooden sword by a senior, and requested to leave the team in July because of the treatment he had received, prompting an investigation.
The university has claimed that the full magnitude of the incidents only became clear in late July following interviews with students, but the abuse was not reported to the AJJF initially.
Head coach Saburo Tosa was suspended from his role, along with AJJF director and four-time world champion Shōzō Fujii - who served as head of the university's judo programme, earlier this month.
Fujii has since announced his resignation from both his roles at the AJJF and Tenri University after failing to report the abuse to the national governing body despite being aware of the incidents, just two weeks after being appointed as a director.
Ironically, he was appointed to assist in clearing up the sport in Japan, which has been plagued by numerous public scandals in recent months.
Quizzed on why he did not report the abuse, Fujii replied: "Because I left the decision on how to deal with the assaults up to university officials, I was not in a position to say anything [to the AJJF].
"I regret not doing so."
It remains to be seen whether the AJJF will impose sanctions of their own upon Ono, but with increasing pressure being placed on them to be vigilant with cases of abuse in domestic judo, the world champion could face further punishment.
There had been fears that the scandals that have diminished the reputation of judo in the country would affect Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the Japanese capital still managed to win the vote by a convincing margin.
In February this year, members of Japan's national women's team revealed that their coach, Ryuji Sonoda, physically and verbally abused them, beating them with a bamboo sword and calling them "ugly" and telling them to "die" in a saga labelled by Japanese Sports Minister Hakubun Shimomura as the "gravest crisis in Japan's sporting history".
Sonoda resigned following these revelations, but just months later reports emerged that AJJF officials had received Government subsidies for coaches even when they were not technically coaches.
And a further month later, another official, Jiro Fukuda, was found to have made unwanted sexual advances towards a female judoka while intoxicated in a Tokyo subway station, which also forced his resignation.
AJJF President Haruki Uemura and 22 other leading officials left their roles last month following the series of incidents.
International Judo Federation (IJF) President Marius Vizer fired a warning shot at the AJJF in June over scandals and the potential impact that they could have on judo's status as a respected Olympic sport.
He has also ordered Japan to submit a report on the abuse by October 15.
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