French rugby player Nicolas Kraska has broken his silence on the unbelievable story of his experience with a Japanese Top League club, including how he and other players were poorly treated, mismanaged and in some cases, allegedly robbed of what was due to them.
We recently posted a story exposing some of what was going on at the club, but after one of the players in question (a former Test rugby player) was told he wouldn’t be paid specifically because of that article, we were requested to take it down.
After speaking to other reputable sources who told us tales of similar alleged experiences, we are giving Nicolas a platform for sharing his story.
It’s a long and harrowing read, but hopefully some good will come of this being published.
The following are Nicolas’ words, verbatim.
Shimizu is a special club in Japan. It is an amazing club.
Unlike other Japanese teams, players not employed by Shimizu can join this team as official players. As a result, foreigners are recruited through a company, Tokyo Athletic United, owned by Yohei Shinomiya, an ancient famous international player of teams composed by 7 players.
To avoid dealing directly with foreign players, Shimizu addresses its requests to this company so that, in case of problems, Shimizu does not have to worry about legal fallout or other possible scandals.
Yohei, who at the club is the High-Performance Manager, works closely with Niki Takahiro, an employee of Shimizu, who has the title of Chief Director. Both, manage the contracts and the budget allocated by Shimizu to foreigners.
I signed my first contract with Shimizu Blue Sharks in March 2019. I had accepted a drop of more than 65% compared to the contract that I previously had signed with Toshiba.
But to reassure me, they promised, if I played well, to re-sign the contract and make a significant increase next year. Anyway, once the contract was signed, while it had been agreed that they would pay the full tax amount, they told me that they could not have paid it in full and that I had to pay more than half by myself, corresponding to about 600,000 yen.
To avoid paying this amount, they even proposed me not to pay the Japanese pension contribution; something my agent told me was illegal.
The month after my arrival, at the time of the first paycheck, I was surprised not to receive a pay slip. I immediately asked to receive it, but one (my agent was called by Yohei and Niki) informed me that here there was not pay slip at all and if I would have asked too many questions and/or I was going to continue to ask for pay slips, I would have been fired on the spot.
I was beginning to doubt the legality of their actions, but my wife was pregnant with our first child, and we were 10,000km far from France, so that I felt obliged to turn a blind eye and accept this situation.
I asked anyway my foreign colleagues right to left if they too were finding their way of doing and managing our contracts bizarre.
They all said they were, and they also had doubts about the legality of their actions. The season was going well for me in November I got a two-year contract offer and a 20% increase in my salary.
I accepted immediately, even if it was not what I was promised, we were having a good life, the level of rugby was good, and I only had 3 training sessions a week.
I had a lot of time with the family, and I was able to see my daughter growing up.
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However, a week after accepting the offer, Niki and Yohei came back to me and informed me that the company was refusing their own offer… but the increase would have still been 10%. But when I looked at the details of my budget (salary, apartment rental, tickets (airplane and taxes) I noticed that between the first and this offer the tax budget had not decreased while my salary was not as high.
So, I asked why the tax budget was so high, considering the difference between what I owe to the state and the budget would have been returned to me to reimburse me for what I had advanced in the first year.
Niki and Yohei kicked in and told me clearly that it was none of my business and if I would have asked questions again, the negotiations would have stopped, and I would have not been kept in the team.
Feeling trapped, I preferred to accept and think about the positive: my wife and I were happy in Japan, I was spending a lot of time with my family and, the players were great.
So again, I accepted and closed my eyes.
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At the end of the season, we returned to France. The Covid epidemic was starting to break out and I got a call from my agent telling me that I absolutely had to go back to Japan within three days or I would have been fired. We changed the tickets, and we went back to Japan immediately.
An Australian player was unable to return in time, he was fired on the spot.
During the pandemic, Pekahou Cowan negotiated with the club to return to Australia to play Super Rugby with the Forces. He signed a contract stating that if he would have been injured more than six months the contract would be terminated.
Upon his return he had a small calf tear, Niki and Yohei sent him to do twice tests to estimate the downtime as they were trying to fire him. Both specialists were unanimous superficial injuries 3-4 weeks of unavailability only.
Following these results, Pek’ had a meeting with Niki, who asked him for 100,000 yen in cash in compensation and 30% less on his monthly salary. Pek refused at first because he did not understand why he should have accepted. In his contract it was marked that if he had had 6 months of unavailability he could have been fired.
Niki kept him for more than an hour in the meeting room and threatened him, if he did not accept, he would not be able to play anymore, no longer train and that he would have done everything to get him to resign and receive no compensation.
In the end pek cracked and accepted 5% of the monthly salary plus the 100,000 yen in cash.
As in a movie, Pek went out and came back with the cash, and he put them in Niki’s wallet. A week later same scenario, Pek decided to call his agent and told him there was no way he will pay again. His agent told him to pay so that the story would be over. At the end, he paid 100,000 yen in cash again.
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We arrived in January, I played 5 friendly matches. The whole team, the managers, the coaches, and Niki and Yohei were happy with me.
So, I decided to ask my agent to start negotiating an increase for my last year of contract, Agatha was pregnant again, we were waiting for a new girl.
They accepted very quickly the increase, more fully the rent of the apartment. I was able to return in mid-July and then leave at the beginning of September until early November to be at Agatha’s side during childbirth, as we could have not afforded a second birth in Japan.
Niki and Yohei were aware of our situation. Two days later, my agent called me to inform me that there was a rumor, the Japanese league wanted to reduce the quota of foreigners and remove the quota of Asian passports holders, of which I was one of them.
I asked him to inform the club and asked them what they intended to do if the rule was formalized because I did not want to find myself in a difficult situation. Niki and Yohei ignored my agent’s calls; it was impossible to have an interview with them and when we were able to agree on a date, they did not come.
In mid-February, there were still no news and I started to worry, one of the South Afs club had just learned that he would have not been retained, and that his contract had been torn by Yohei. Jano Venter had received a three-year contract, which he had obviously signed and returned to Niki and Yohei, but while both parties had agreed and concluded by email the details of the contract, they had not signed it in return.
Moreover, Jano negotiated with Yohei to bring his fiancée to Japan with a working visa via Tokyo Athletic United, to do so Yohei asked Jano to pay 150,000 yen. Jano asked for a receipt, Yohei didn’t appreciate the question and got mad.
Two days later, Jano got informed he would be cut before the end of the season, no matter the three years contract.
At that moment I started to really panic and decided to go to the head coach to explain my situation, hoping that he could have talked with Niki and Yohei. Unfortunately no return from them…
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On Tuesday, March 16, I got a call from my agent while I was at the club just where Niki and Yohei were. She informed me of my dismissal, and I had to leave the territory before my visa was expiring on March 28, because Yohei had stopped the process of renewing my visa while the end of my first term was March 31 and the end of our championship was on April 17.
I learned a few days later that he had stopped the steps so that I could have not find other clubs in Japan. The Certificate of Eligibility at that time was issued only “to the dropper” because of the Covid, so that without a pre-existing work visa, it was currently exceedingly difficult to come to work. I also wanted to make it clear that the whole club was aware of my wife’s pregnancy, as were Yohei and Niki.
Despite this, they had no pity or consideration and left me only 10 days to prepare everything. With Agathe 4 months pregnant and my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, in 10 days we were forced to organize an international move, from Yokohama to Paris. We had to cancel gas, electricity, internet, phone plan contracts, pay local taxes etc.
During these 10 days I never had a meeting with Niki and Yohei, I never had an explanation while I saw them every day.
In addition, I learned that they did not want to pay severance pay or my match and goal bonuses.
For example, I had A team goal bonus if we could get into the top four I would get that bonus. We set this goal together during a team meeting. And when I asked my agent what was going on, she came back to me to tell me that Niki had informed her that our goal was top 4 and 1 win against a Top League team. I went crazy, I called coaches, video analysts, translators, and players; everybody confirmed to me that he was lying, our goal was well top 4.
Before returning to France, I asked to sign my breach of contract, I never got it back. We landed in Paris on Wednesday, March 24. On the 25th I decided to tweet my bitterness without going into details.
I was fortunate to see so much sympathy, a lot of people contacted me and put me in contact with lawyers and journalists to help me but also to make my story heard. Rugby is a real family.
The tweet was brought to the ears of Yohei and Niki, who decided to call my agent. They told him that if I wanted to receive what I was expected to receive, I had to delete my tweet and post a thankful message.
Under threat and given the current situation of the world, I gave up and I decided to receive my compensation.
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