Axed ozeki on list for tourney

Rank posting another sumo embarrassment

Kyodo News

Sumo officials are facing another major embarrassment after ozeki Kotomitsuki appeared in the rankings released Monday for the upcoming Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament despite his dismissal from the sport for illicit gambling.

More than 100 fans lined up at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan arena in the morning to buy copies of what a Japan Sumo Association official has described as “unprecedented, unique rankings” ahead of next Sunday’s start of the 15-day tournament at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.

Kotomitsuki’s name appeared among five wrestlers who hold the second-highest position — below Hakuho, the only man in the top rank of yokozuna — for the tournament, which will go on without six other top-division wrestlers who have been suspended for their involvement in gambling.

The sumo association apparently had only limited time to work on the rankings amid the widespread scandal that had threatened to cancel the Nagoya tournament. Wrestler rankings for grand tournaments are normally released two weeks before opening day.

Tsutomu Yamada, a company employee who bought seven copies of the new rankings, said he would like to “hold onto the very last list with Kotomitsuki’s name.”

But Masako Shinkai, who regularly purchases rankings of wrestlers at Ryogoku Kokugikan upon their release, criticized the association for being insincere about vowing to restore sumo’s tarnished image.

“I just didn’t want his name to be put on this because the repercussions to the scandal have been huge,” she said.

The sumo association, the sport’s governing body, said Sunday after an extraordinary meeting of its board of directors that it had fired Kotomitsuki and stablemaster Otake for being the central figures in gambling on baseball games, allegedly a source of funding for the yakuza.

Kotomitsuki is the first active ozeki to be fired.

His case led to the arrest in late June of a 38-year-old former wrestler suspected of extorting around ¥3.5 million from the ozeki and trying to squeeze him for another ¥100 million, which he never paid.

Otake was found to have borrowed ¥20 million to ¥30 million from Kotomitsuki because he was mired in debts accumulated through illegal gambling.

On Sunday, the association also decided that it will reimburse people, if they wish, for tickets purchased for the Nagoya meet.

In a related development, Hiroyoshi Murayama, a former Tokyo High Prosecutor’s Office chief filling in for suspended association Chairman Musashigawa, went to the National Police Agency on Monday and asked national security chief Hiroshi Nakai to reveal the results of the police investigation into the gambling as soon as possible.

“I told him that we are hoping for a speedy conclusion of their investigation in order for us to consider measures that would help sumo sever ties with antisocial groups,” Murayama said after meeting with Nakai.