The Japan Sumo Association hinted Friday it may cancel next month’s Spring Grand Sumo Tournament amid the match-fixing scandal that has rocked the ancient sport to its core and enraged the public.
“We would like to go ahead with the tournament, but we have to think about whether we can do that without the forgiveness of sumo fans,” JSA Chairman Hanaregoma told a news conference.
The association will discuss whether to go ahead with the March 13-27 meet in Osaka at an executive committee meeting Sunday, when it will also try to come to grips with the latest scandal to bring sumo into disrepute.
The association has also postponed the start of ticket sales for the spring “basho” (tourney), as the ongoing investigation of 14 wrestlers allegedly involved in the bout-rigging is taking longer than expected. Tickets were originally set to go on sale Sunday.
Sources revealed earlier in the day that Chiyohakuho, one of two wrestlers who have admitted to fixing sumo matches in high-profile tournaments, has offered to quit the sport.
The juryo division wrestler on Thursday submitted his resignation to the JSA, which has yet to decide whether to accept it.
In a hammer blow to a sumo world still reeling from a string of scandals, including illegal betting on pro baseball, drug use and the beating death of a teenage wrestler allegedly as part of discipline, Chiyohakuho, Enatsukasa and sumo elder Takenawa have all admitted their involvement in bout-rigging.
During questioning by the association Wednesday, Chiyohakuho initially denied being involved but later admitted his guilt after being asked about a text message on his mobile phone suggesting he had thrown matches.
He named his opponent in the bout in question but the name of the wrestler, who formerly grappled in the juryo division, was not mentioned in the text message. The wrestler was later identified as Kirinowaka.
While the latest scandal has left sumo’s reputation in the gutter, it has also put in jeopardy its status as a public interest corporation with preferential tax treatment.
The sumo governing body has also been tainted with gambling on professional baseball games by wrestlers and elders, and alleged links with the underworld.
On Friday, Cabinet members indicated they would not look to immediately rescind he JSA’s status but urged its members to do their utmost to clean up the sport.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters: “There are many hurdles to repeal the association’s status as a public body. . . . If (the JSA) takes proper action, it will not have to be dissolved.”
Renho, Cabinet minister in charge of reforming public bodies, also said if the next sumo tournament is held as scheduled, the government should skip giving the prime minister’s cup to the winner.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan refrained from commenting on whether the tourney should go ahead, adding only, “I would like to think about it after the outcome of a thorough investigation.”
The bout-fixing scandal broke Wednesday when police investigating the illegal gambling last year revealed that text messages from seized cell phones indicated sumo bouts had been thrown.
Thirteen people were initially implicated in the scandal, although a further JSA investigation revealed an additional person may have taken part in the match-fixing.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which oversees the JSA, has demanded full disclosure of the association’s findings that it could report as early as Monday.
In addition, public broadcaster NHK, which decided to pull the plug on live feeds of last summer’s Nagoya tournament because of the baseball betting racket, is canceling its annual “Fukushi Ozumo” charity event scheduled for Feb. 11 due to the scandal and is also considering scrapping live coverage of the March tourney, if it is held.
Earlier reports said the bout-fixing indicated on the cell phone texts, including deleted messages that were restored, seemed to match what took place on the mat. They included numeric figures that presumably stood for payoffs.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.