Sumo match-fixing story nets Kodansha libel fine

Kyodo News

The Tokyo District Court on Thursday ordered Kodansha Ltd. to pay a total of ¥15 million in damages to the Japan Sumo Association and its former chief, Kitanoumi, ruling the publisher damaged their reputations by running a groundless report on match-fixing in a weekly magazine.

The JSA and Kitanoumi were each seeking about ¥110 million in damages.

Presiding Judge Hideki Hama said the article in the March 2007 issue of Shukan Gendai, which covered a bout between Kitanoumi and another popular sumo wrestler, Takanohana, in 1975, “was based on flawed research and lacked supporting evidence.”

He ordered Kodansha to publish a retraction as well.

The writer of the story, Yorimasa Takeda, “neglected to interview Kitanoumi and we see no grounds to believe that the article reports the truth,” the judge said.

Tomoyuki Inui, chief editor of Shukan Gendai, disagreed with the ruling, saying, “We are gravely concerned that the ruling may give an incentive to more wrestlers to be engaged in fixed bouts, if they can get away with it.”

The ruling gives the JSA a little breathing room as it struggles to restore sumo’s sullied image. The sport has been marred by assault, a fatal disciplining and marijuana scandals that forced Kitanoumi out of the JSA chairmanship.

In June 2007, Tokitaizan, whose real name was Takashi Saito, died after being severely beaten by senior wrestlers during sparring practice, The seniors, who were convicted over the beatings, said in court they were merely following the orders of stablemaster Tokitsukaze, whose real name is Junichi Yamamoto. He is now on trial.

Meanwhile, Russian sumo wrestler Wakanoho and compatriot sumo siblings Roho and Hakurozan were fired by the JSA last year over allegations of marijuana possession and use. Wakanoho, who was arrested last August, wasn’t indicted. But Kitanoumi resigned as JSA chief the following month after the brothers tested positive for pot multiple times.

Last October, Kitanoumi said in court: “No match-fixing exists in sumo.”