TOKYO - Agence France-Presse
Japanese national women's judo head coach Ryuji Sonoda. AFP photo
The judo coach who took Japan's women to the London Olympics said Thursday he was resigning after allegations that he beat his athletes with bamboo swords.
Ryuji Sonoda offered an apology and a deep bow at a press conference. He said the claims made by a 15-strong group of judokas of physical punishment, including face-slapping, were "more or less true".
A huge media storm has engulfed judo and threatens to take its toll on Tokyo's Olympic bid committee, who hope to bag the 2020 Games. The education and sports minister has ordered swift action to neuter the scandal.
Sonoda, a 39-year-old former world judo champion, told a tightly-packed press conference: "I would like to deeply apologise for causing trouble to all the athletes and people concerned with what I have done and said".
"I think it will be difficult for me to continue being engaged in the training programme any longer. I wish to submit my resignation to the judo federation." On Wednesday the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) said it had received a petition from a group of 15 women judokas who complained that they had been physically and verbally abused.
They said they were beaten with thick bamboo swords, like those used in the Japanese martial art of kendo, and were slapped and kicked by Sonoda and other coaches, according to the JOC and the All-Japan Judo Federation.
They also complained that some were forced to compete in matches while injured, reports said.
The case emerged weeks after a Japanese high school student killed himself following repeated physical abuse from his basketball coach. The incident provoked national debate over corporal punishment, widely seen as a way of life in various sports circles.
The 15 women turned to the JOC after the judo federation only reprimanded Sonoda and his staff but kept him on as head coach.
Judo is very popular in Japan and has been a rich source of Olympic medals in the past. However, the women's haul from London was poor, with only one each of gold, silver and bronze.
Before Sonoda's resignation, JOC president Tsunekazu Takeda said his organisation would try to work out measures against physical punishment by improving the "long-existing nature of the sporting community".
"It is regrettable that a new case has arisen," Takeda, who also heads the Tokyo bid committee, told the education and sports minister.
Minister Hakubun Shimomura said the issue had to be resolved to avoid it contaminating Tokyo's bid for the Games.
"We wish you to act promptly so as not to let the issue impact the bid to invite the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics to Tokyo." Former vice education and sports minister Kenshiro Matsunami told the daily Sports Nippon: "It is disappointing because domestic support for the Olympic bid is just beginning to rise." "People may feel disgusted about sport if it is proven that violence is also rampant at its top level." On Wednesday the bid committee said public support in the city for the Olympic bid rose to 73 percent in a recent telephone poll.
An IOC survey published last May showed that the rate of public support was 47 percent for Tokyo, against 73 and 78 percent for 2020 rivals Istanbul and Madrid.
"This would not happen in Italy," Japan's men's national football coach Alberto Zaccheroni, an Italian, told reporters.
"Violence is not necessary to help athletes grow," he said. "In football, too, coaches get angry and show their emotions at times but that does not lead to physical punishment."