Photo/IllutrationKazuhito Sakae hands the Japanese national flag to Kaori Icho after she won the gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A prominent wrestling coach was found to have abused his position to harass four-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho, and forced to quit as head of top athlete development in the Japan Wrestling Federation.

The wrestling world was reeling over the departure of Kazuhito Sakae, 57, who groomed a number of Olympic gold medalists.

A panel of three lawyers was selected by the federation on March 8 to look into a complaint submitted to the Cabinet Office alleging power harassment by Sakae against Icho, 33, and a younger wrestling coach, Chikara Tanabe.

Announcing the findings by the third-party panel April 6, the federation said it had confirmed four instances of power harassment against the pair.

Federation chairman Tomiaki Fukuda held a news conference the same day and apologized to Icho and Tanabe.

Disciplinary measures are expected against federation officials, who had denied any power harassment occurred even after the complaint was formally submitted.

The first incident occurred in 2010 after Icho moved to Tokyo from Aichi Prefecture in central Japan. She had been attending what was then Chukyo Women's University, where Sakae was the head coach of the women's wrestling team. Icho joined a training session for the national team and Sakae told her, "You have the nerve to wrestle in front of me."

When the world wrestling championship was being held in Moscow that same year, Sakae encountered Tanabe at a hotel where the team was staying and told him to stop instructing Icho.

While Sakae was still in charge of the women's team, Tanabe was a coach for the men's freestyle team.

But the panel found that Sakae had used his influence over the entire wrestling team to harass Tanabe despite the lack of any direct relationship as fellow coaches or senior and junior members of the coaching staff.

The third instance involved his refusal in 2010 to explain his decision to drop Icho from the team appearing in that year's Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. The committee headed by Sakae selected the team members.

Even though Icho met a key condition for selection by winning two tournaments, she was not selected. In her place, an athlete at the university where Sakae is the head coach was chosen.

The final instance came at a national team training session in 2015 when Sakae insulted Tanabe in front of other wrestlers and coaches by screaming: "You are an eyesore. Get out."

The Cabinet Office also mounted its own investigation.