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|Sumo wrestling hit by match-fixing scandal
|Justin McCurry in Tokyo
| Japan's national
sport suffers latest in string of controversies as police find evidence of
rigged bouts in wrestlers' text messages
Japan's national sport suffers latest in string of controversies as
police find evidence of rigged bouts in wrestlers' text messages
Japanese media reports said the
text messages showed the wrestlers had gone as far as agreeing which winning
moves would be used during bouts, and how the losing opponent should fall.
The messages were found on phones belonging to wrestlers in sumo's
second division, the Kyodo news agency said. The phones had been confiscated
during an investigation into allegations of illegal gambling involving scores
of wrestlers that surfaced last year.
They suggested that match-fixing was common in the
2,000-year-old sport, with hundreds of thousands of yen resting on the outcome
of a single bout.
The Japan sumo association summoned one elder and
nine wrestlers, including three from the top division, to an emergency meeting
to discuss the allegations.
"We are examining the situation," the
association's chairman, Hanaregoma, said.
Reports suggested the police
would not take action against the wrestlers, as match-fixing is not illegal and
there was no evidence that anyone had bet on the predetermined bouts.
Match-fixing is the latest in a line of scandals to have tarnished the
reputation of sumo, whose exponents are expected to display sportsmanship
inside the ring, and dignity and humility outside it.
have been arrested for betting on professional baseball games, which exposed
the sport's close ties to organised crime groups whose members allegedly acted
Kotomitsuki, a former champion, was expelled from the
sport after he admitted paying off a yakuza, or mafia member, who had
threatened to expose his gambling habit. More than 60 other wrestlers admitted
betting on baseball, golf, cards or mahjong.
It also emerged that
coveted ringside tickets usually reserved for fans and corporate sponsors had
found their way into the hands of senior members of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's
most powerful crime syndicate.
The crime bosses had reportedly wanted
to be visible on TV broadcasts to boost the morale of fellow gangsters watching
the tournament from their prison cells.
Public broadcaster NHK
registered its disgust by refusing to show live coverage of last year's summer
tournament. Six tournaments, each lasting 15 days, are held every year,
generating ¥8.5bn (£65m) in revenue.
The malaise has spread
to the very top of the sport. Asashoryu, a Mongolian-born grand champion
considered by many to be the finest wrestler of his generation, was forced to
retire last year after assaulting a man outside a Tokyo nightclub.
previous year, several wrestlers were expelled following revelations of
widespread marijuana use, and in 2007 the sport's guardians were urged to
address allegations of systematic physical abuse following the death of a
17-year-old trainee. The teenager died after being beaten by three colleagues
as punishment for attempting to abscond from his stable. His coach was
sentenced to six years in prison for ordering the attack.
This is not
the first time sumo has had to contend with match-fixing claims, but they have
never been investigated amid denials of any impropriety by the sport's
Potential whistleblowers may have been deterred by the
supreme court's decision last year to order the publisher Kodansha to pay
¥44m in damages to the association and three retired wrestlers who had been
cited in match-fixing claims made in a magazine article.