Sports minister Yoshiaki Takaki told the Diet on Thursday that three people in the sumo world have admitted bout-fixing, further disgracing the Japan Sumo Association and jeopardizing its status as a certified public interest corporation.
Takaki told a Diet committee that Hanaregoma, chairman of the sumo association, informed him of the confessions.
The minister didn’t name the three, but according to Kyodo News they are wrestlers Chiyohakuho and Enatsukasa and stablemaster Takenawa.
Chiyohakuho reportedly denied the allegations at first but later admitted his involvement after text messages left on a cell phone proved his guilt.
“An interim report on those 14 wrestlers and stablemasters rumored to have taken part in fixing matches will be ready by Sunday. We will take strict measures, considering the magnitude of the case” once reviewing the report, Takaki said.
The sumo association held an emergency board meeting Wednesday over cell phone messages found by the National Police Agency strongly hinting that winners of matches were decided in advance.
When the news broke Wednesday, it appeared 13 people were implicated in the scandal. Further investigations by the association revealed an additional figure may have taken part in the rigging, bringing the total to 14.
The sumo association has little chance of surviving the scandal without sanction, with government officials quick to condemn the bout-fixing.
“This betrays the public’s hopes and expectations toward sumo wrestling,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters, adding the association must be overhauled to regain the trust of fans.
“We need the ministry to be strict,” Edano said. “If the practice of match-fixing is widespread, it will be difficult to give the sumo association certification as a public interest corporation.”
If the association’s status as a public-interest body is revoked, it will lose a major tax break: It currently pays a corporate tax rate of 22 percent as opposed to the standard 30 percent.
Kan Suzuki, senior vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, echoed Edano’s warning.
“It will be crucial that the association show it can comply with what is being asked of it,” Suzuki said, explaining that anything less than complete exposure of the misdeeds will be unacceptable if it seeks to retain its benefits as a government-certified body.
“Holding the scheduled sumo tournament in March will not gain the public’s support unless the association uncovers every detail,” Suzuki said, adding the sport’s governing body should go beyond the 14 suspects and question every wrestler above the juryo division.
Despite sumo being Japan’s national sport, rumors of the shady practice have been around for decades.
But new light was shed on match-fixing this week when text messages sent between wrestlers and a stablemaster were discovered by the NPA during its probe of sumo involvement in illegal gambling on pro baseball. The messages were on cell phones confiscated during the betting investigation.
The association has consistently denied that matches were fixed, at times taking the issue to court and suing its accusers for defamation.
The text messages indicate that wrestlers were trading cash for wins.
Besides the bout-fixing and baseball betting, the sumo world has been rocked by drug use and the death of a young trainee in 2007 after a heavy beating by his seniors.