Ex-sumo attendant says match-fixing nothing new

Backroom deals commonplace 30 years ago, former wrestler notes

Kyodo News

A former wrestler in his 50s who once worked as an attendant in sumo’s top division said he was approached by an attendant of another grappler to take part in match-fixing some 30 years ago.

According to the man, who requested anonymity, the attendant for another makuuchi-division wrestler approached him with an offer to throw their match.

His wrestler needed just one more win to claim a Fighting Spirit Prize, and the other attendant approached him about the scheme in the dressing room before the bout.

“He says he will throw the bout for you,” the attendant began. When his wrestler turned down the offer, the other attendant said gruffly, “He’s strange, isn’t he?”

The man said this particular wrestler detested rigging bouts and later ordered him not to let any attendants in the dressing room who were offering to do so. But the man said there were further offers to fix matches.

The treatment of wrestlers in the second-tier juryo and third-tier makushita is like night and day — something the man suggested leads wrestlers who live in fear of demotion to rig bouts.

At the time, the man said the going rate for wrestlers for fixing bouts was anywhere from ¥200,000 to ¥500,000 per bout. Of course, the stakes went up for championship titles and bouts involving prizes.

And match-fixing was not only done for cash, according to the man, but also to cover lodging expenses or the costs of eating while on regional tours.

“If the top wrestler in a group of stables was shooting for promotion to yokozuna, everyone from that group lined up for him. This was an unspoken agreement. Deals were made in toilets and dressing rooms among attendants and hairdressers,” he said.

The former wrestler said he learned from his seniors who rejected offers of match-fixing to walk the straight and narrow in the world of sumo.

“Once you become a makuuchi wrestler, you get a high salary. Wrestlers these days enter the sumo world as if they were entering the workforce, and they try to remain in sumo for a long time. This is what turns people to match-fixing.”