Sumo idled over fans’ betrayal, long probe

Kyodo News

Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hanaregoma confirmed Sunday that the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament has been canceled due to the match-fixing scandal and that the decision was made because the betrayal of sumo fans was unforgivable.

Hanaregoma said it is impossible to hold the Osaka meet, which would have started March 13, because it would confuse the fans and that he could apologize enough for the scandal.

Police stumbled upon the match-fixing involving 14 people in the sumo world when they found text messages suggesting bouts had been rigged in the course of their investigation last year into sumo players’ illicit gambling on baseball.

Rumors of bout-rigging linked to the underworld have plagued sumo for decades, but nothing has ever been proven.

“Until we can completely root out corruption in the sport, we cannot show sumo in the ring,” said Hanaregoma. “We will do everything in our power, acting swiftly to uncover the facts surrounding the scandal as soon as possible.”

Hanaregoma said the other reason for calling off the Osaka meet was that a special investigative panel will need more time to uncover the truth because the phone records must be examined while further interrogations of JSA members are being conducted.

This is the first time a “basho” has been canceled by scandal. The summer tournament of 1946 was scrapped due to a delay in renovation work at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium in Tokyo, which was damaged during the war.

The summer basho in May could also be in jeopardy.

Chiyohakuho, one of two active wrestlers who admitted to a JSA board to fixing matches in major tournaments, offered on Friday to quit the sport.

Chiyohakuho, Enatsukasa and sumo elder Takenawa, who was known as Kasuganishiki while in the ring, have all admitted involvement in bout-rigging and are likely to be dismissed without severance pay.

The special investigative panel led by panel chief Shigeru Ito, who holds a special position at Waseda University, surveyed nearly 1,000 people, effectively every JSA member, about rigged bouts, but only three of the 14 implicated have admitted to throwing bouts for cash.

Juryo-division wrestler Kisenoumi and others among the 14 who have denied the allegations, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, may be forced into retirement.

The scandal broke Wednesday when police investigating the sumo world’s illegal gambling on pro baseball last year revealed they had discovered several text messages from seized cell phones indicating thrown bouts. Thirteen people were initially implicated in the match-fixing, but a further JSA investigation implicated an additional person.

The investigative panel questioned the 14 and asked them to surrender their cell phones and bank books.

Match-rigging claims are nothing new but until now there have never been any public admissions from wrestlers still active in the ring.

In 2000, Keisuke Itai, a former komusubi who wrestled under the name Itai, said he had been involved in rigging bouts during a career lasting from 1978 to 1991, which he said coincided with “the worst period for match-fixing in the history of sumo.”

Itai, who had made his allegations public in a series of interviews in the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai, said, “From 1984 to 1991, sometimes as few as two bouts out of 30 were legitimate.”

In 1996, Itai’s former stablemaster, Onaruto, famously opened a can of worms by alleging in the Shukan Post that sumo, a centuries-old sport steeped in tradition and an almost feudalistic moral code, was rife with fixed bouts, tax evasion, underworld connections, drugs and orgies.

At the time, the JSA dismissed the accusations as “scurrilous lies,” but the plot thickened when Onaruto and another sumo insider, who also contributed to the magazine article, died — within hours of each other — on April 14, 1996.

Last year ex-ozeki Kotomitsuki and several other wrestlers were kicked out of the sport while others were suspended or demoted after admitting involvement in an illegal gambling ring linked to the yakuza. Yokozuna Asashoryu was forced to retire last year after assaulting a man outside a Tokyo nightclub, while other wrestlers were expelled for marijuana use in 2009.

Sumo was also ordered to crack down on abuse of young trainees after one died.