Japan Wrestling Federation News ― October 2023 (Women referees/Asian Games/World U23)


Japan makes effort to increase number of women referees

While Japan dominates globally when it comes to women’s wrestling, in the case of women’s referees, it can be regarded as an “undeveloped country.” Of Japan’s 19 international referees, only two are women (one each in Category II and III). This puts Japan far from United World Wrestling’s objective of having equal numbers from both genders.

For the first time at a major domestic tournament, there were more women referees than men at the Japan Women’s Open.

Of the 393 registered referees domestically in Japan, just 19 are women, or 4.8%. The percentage is even lower for those with a Class A license, which is required for officiating at the All-Japan Championships — just seven out of 197, or 3.6%. In the Global Gender Gap Report released in June by the World Economic Forum, Japan ranked 125th out of 146 countries in terms of achieving gender equality. UWW has requested that the Japan federation address this matter.

Efforts have begun to rectify this situation. Isao OKIYAMA, chairperson of the JWF Referees Committee, and Airi FURUSATO, head of the Referees Committee of the All-Japan Women’s Wrestling Federation and holder of a UWW Category II license, joined forces to put together an event aimed at producing and nurturing female referees.

The “JWF Referees’ Challenge Course” was conducted in conjuction with the Japan Women’s Open, held Oct. 14-15 in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Held the day before the tournament, the event drew 20 participants, both budding referees and those interested in becoming one. Kuninori KOIKE, a member of the UWW Refereeing Commission, gave a lecture and workshop, after which the participants received practical training.

Furusato spoke about her determination to develop more women referees. “Through the cooperation of many people, we were able to make this project a reality,” Furusato said. “I was moved by the enthusiasm of all of the participants. Together with such reassuring colleagues, we will continue to work even harder in the future.”

Kuninori KOIKE, a member of the UWW Refereeing Commission, leads a training session for current and prospective women referees.

Among other recent moves to cultivate women referees were:

– Last year, the West Japan Collegiate Wrestling Federation named women to the positions of chairperson and vice chairperson of its referees committee.

– In the East Japan Collegiate League in May, women’s world champions Akari FUJINAMI and Yuka KAGAMI served as referees, which officials are hoping will appeal to more women to consider becoming referees.

– At the All-Japan Collegiate Championships in August in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, one of the four mats was reserved for matches with a woman referee “to give them a sense of responsibility and awareness,” said Okiyama.

The language barrier has always been a problem, making it difficult to participate in international competitions. Japan is realizing the importance of having a command of English. To help achieve gender equality in international referees, Japan is stepping up its efforts.

World champions Yuka KAGAMI, left, and Akari FUJINAMI serve as referees at the East Japan Collegiate League.

World champs Fujinami, Sakurai add Asian Games titles

The wrestling competition at the Asian Games was held Oct. 4-7 in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. Akari FUJINAMI and Tsugumi SAKURAI, following up on their title runs at the senior World Championships two weeks earlier, won gold medals at women’s 53kg and 57kg, respectively. Remina YOSHIMOTO also won the gold at 50kg, giving Japan three of the six women’s titles at stake.

Fujinami had a bye into the quarterfinals, where she defeated world bronze medalist ANTIM (IND) by fall. A 10-0 victory over Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Bolotuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) put Fujinami into the final against Tokyo silver medalist Qianyu PANG (CHN), who she also defeated by 10-0 technical superiority.

Fujinami did not concede a point in the three matches, and extended her current winning streak to 130 matches dating back to her junior high school days. It was also her fifth title in as many international tournaments this year.

“From when I was younger, Pang is a wrestler whose videos I have watched, and from that time, she has made her mark on the international stage,” Fujinami said. “She’s one opponent I had always wanted to face.”

Fujinami also said it was valuable to experience a multi-sports event as she prepares for her first Olympics in Paris next year.

“This was my first time to enter a multi-sports Games, and the atmosphere of the event and the welcome we received from everyone were amazing,” she said. “It left me thinking, ‘The Olympics are probably going to be even more awesome,’ which really has me excited.”

Akari FUJINAMI celebrates adding an Asian Games gold to her world title at 53kg, which also extended her current winning streak to 130 matches. (photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Sakurai needed three wins to make it to the final at 57kg, including a victory over Asian silver medalist Laylokhon SOBIROVA (UZB). The gold-medal match pitted her against In Sun JONG (PRK), one of a number of North Korean wrestlers who stood out as the country made its return to international action after years away during the pandemic.

Jong, a member of the North Korea squad at both the 2018 and 2019 World Championships, proved to be a formidable opponent. She jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first period, forcing Sakurai to scrape her way back into the match. A stepout and caution in the final seconds against a fatigued Jong gave Sakurai a 7-6 victory.

“I was in a dangerous position, but I know I am strong, and I do not lose mentally,” said Sakurai, who had to fight off her back in the first period and was able to regroup after the break. “The opponent looked like she was struggling in the final minute, and I thought, ‘I have to just go for it.’ I feel that I won it on guts.”

Tsugumi SAKURAI also achieved a world-Asian Games double after rallying to a last-second victory over her North Korean opponent in the 57kg final. (photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Yoshimoto, the 2021 world champion at 50kg, also had to overcome a tough North Korean opponent in the final, barely edging 2017 world bronze medalist Sonhyang KIM (PRK) 5-4 in a fierce match in which the final points were sorted out after the buzzer.

Nonoka OZAKI was not so fortunate in her battle with Hyon Gong MUN (PRK) in the 62kg final. Ozaki, dropping back to her usual weight after winning the world title at 65kg, led 6-0 going into the second period, only to see Mun pull out a 6-6 win on criteria with a 4-point move that kept Ozaki on her back for the final minute of the match.

It was a devastating loss for Ozaki, who had defeated world champion and nemesis Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

Naruha MATSUYUKI won a bronze medal at 68kg.

Endo, Hasegawa capture men’s Asian Games golds

Japan picked up one gold medal in each of the two men’s styles, with Katsuaki ENDO winning the Greco-Roman 67kg title and Toshihiro HASEGAWA triumphing at freestyle 57kg.

Endo capped an impressive performance with a 4-3 win in the final over Meiirzhan SHERMAKHANBET (KAZ), the gold medalist at the Asian Championships in April this year. The victory gave Japan a Greco champion for the sixth Asian Games in a row dating back to 2002.

Toshihiro HASEGAWA, center, became Japan’s first Asian Games freestyle champion since Japan coach Tatsuhiro YONEMITSU, left, in 2010. On right is fellow coach Kenichi YUMOTO. (photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Japan did not secure a spot at 67kg for the Paris Olympics at last month’s World Championships, and Endo will be aiming to win the title at the All-Japan Championships in December to earn the chance to go to the Asian Olympic qualifier next spring.

Japan also got a Greco silver medal from Ayata SUZUKI at 60kg and bronze medals from Masato SUMI at 87kg and Takahiro TSUDA at 97kg.

Hasegawa’s path to the freestyle 57kg gold included a wild 12-10 victory over world U23 champion AMAN (IND) in the semifinal, and concluded with a 7-3 win over Chongsong HAN (PRK) in the final. The victory made him Japan’s first freestyle gold medalist since Tatsuhiro YONEMITSU in 2010.

Other freestyle medalists were Kirin KINOSHITA, who took the 74kg silver, and Kaiki YAMAGUCHI, who took home a 65kg bronze.

Japan women win five golds at World U23

The World U23 Championships were held Oct. 23-29 in Tirana, Albania, and Japan’s women came away with five gold medals and the team title, edging Ukraine despite not having an entry at 68kg because no one entered the qualifying tournament.

Striking gold were Umi ITO at 50kg, Mako OONO at 53kg, Umi IMAI at 55kg, Sara NATAMI at 57kg and Yuzuka INAGAKI at 62kg. Sena NAGAMOTO won the silver at 59kg.

For Ito, it marked her third age-group world title, after winning as a cadet (U17) in 2017 and at the U20 worlds last year. Inagaki become a two-time U23 champion, adding to the title she won in 2019.

Japan’s world U23 medalists in women’s wrestling, from left, Umi ITO, Mako OONO, Umi IMAI, Sara NATAMI, Sena NAGAMOTO and Yuzuka INAGAKI.

In freestyle, Tatsuya SHIRAI came up short in his attempt to repeat as 86kg champion, losing in the final to Aaron BROOKS (USA), a three-time NCAA champion at Penn State.

“He’s a wrestler who I think will be in the front line of contenders for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics,” Shirai said. “To lose 10-0 to him makes me realize again the global wall [that I must get over].”

Shirai must now put the loss behind him and prepare for the All-Japan Championships, where he needs a victory to secure the right to compete at the Asian Olympic qualifier. “The way things are now, even if I win and go out into the world, I know I’m not on a competitive level,” he said. “I have only a short time, but I will work to raise my level.”

Japan also captured a pair of freestyle bronzes from Yoshinosuke AOYAGI at 70kg and Hikaru TAKATA at 74kg, and finished fifth in the team standings with 71 points.

In Greco, Japan had three bronze medalists in Chiezo MARUYAMA at 63kg, Haruto YABE at 67kg and Yuri NAKAZATO at 97kg.

Nakazato’s medal was the first-ever at a World U23 Championships in a weight class over 90kg in either men’s style. Up to now, the heaviest medalist in Greco was at 77kg.

The three bronzes equaled the number from last year, but because Japan scored no points in many weight classes this year, it accumulated just 47 points in the team standings and dropped to seventh place. Last year, Japan finished fifth with 89 points.

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