On Sept. 12 Nittai University announced that it will fire ekiden team head coach Masaaki Watanabe, 55, over the current power harassment scandal surrounding him. According to the university's public relations office, interviews by the alumni association with five current and one former team member reported multiple acts of violence by Watanabe including kicking athletes' legs and grabbing them by the chest.
The interviews also reported that Watanabe verbally abused and threatened student athletes and attacked their character. When runners fell off pace during workouts he was reported to have shouted, "Get the hell out of this university!" and, following the runners in a car, "I am going to f*cking run you over and kill you." Injured team members were also reported to have been subject to verbal humiliation by Watanabe, including, "Look at this f*cking cripple," and "You f*cking deserve it." Watanabe admitted the accusations but said that he did not consider his words and actions to be abusive.
Watanabe submitted his resignation on Sept. 11, but having determined that he was "not suitable to oversee students," the Nittai Athletic Department chose to fire him with his title of head coach still in place. Although the Nittai team is scheduled to open its season in less than a month at the Oct. 8 Izumo Ekiden its replacement head coach has not yet been chosen.
Watanabe became head coach of Toyokawa Kogyo H.S. in 1993 but left the school in 2013 after revelations of abuse surfaced. According to the Aichi Prefectural Board of Education, between 2008 and 2012 Watanabe committed 33 reported acts of violence toward members of the school's boys' and girls' ekiden teams including beating one with a broom badly enough to require stitches and striking another in the head hard enough to damage the student's eardrum. As a result he received a four-month suspension.
Meanwhile, in recognition of his success in transforming the teams into a national powerhouse the high school's PTA organization collected 38,000 signatures on a petition asking that he remain as head coach. Nevertheless he left the school, taking a position as a physical education teacher at Nittai Ebara H.S. before being hired by his alma mater Nittai University in 2015 to coach its ekiden team. Less than six months into Watanabe's first season as head coach star fourth-yeat Hideto Yamanaka and four other team members quit. The team placed in the top ten at the Hakone Ekiden all three seasons Watanabe coached them.
Translator's note: Despite Nittai's outstanding decision to reject Watanabe's resignation and instead formally fire him, given the circumstances of his departure from Toyokawa Kogyo H.S. the question of responsibility for having hired him at Nittai in the first place still remains.
translated by Brett Larner