The Japan Sumo Association has decided to cancel the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament over the match-fixing scandal that has plunged the sport into what may be its biggest crisis ever, sources said Saturday.
The 15-day tournament in Osaka was scheduled to start March 13. The association planned to formally announce the decision at an emergency board meeting Sunday, the sources said.
“If we go ahead with the tournament in the current circumstances, it will just create more turmoil and trouble for everyone,” a JSA board member said. “The JSA executives made the call. Even the summer tournament could be in doubt depending on the outcome of the investigations.”
It would be the first time ever that the sport’s governing body has canceled a tournament over a scandal. The summer 1946 meet was scrapped, but that was due to a delay in renovation work at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo.
Before the association reached its decision, voices were split among its executives over how fast they should respond to the bout-fixing scandal.
Facing reporters earlier Saturday, board member Tomozuna said a decision on whether to cancel the tournament was unlikely to be reached at Sunday’s extraordinary board meeting.
“We need to think about this once we have the results of the investigation,” Tomozuna said. “I can’t really say anything at this stage. I doubt a conclusion will be reached.”
On Friday, association Chairman Hanaregoma said the tourney could be scrapped because of the scandal, which has angered politicians and triggered a public outcry.
“We’d like to go ahead with the tournament but we have to think about whether we can do that without the forgiveness of sumo fans,” Hanaregoma said at his news conference.
In the wake of the scandal, the association postponed ticket sales for the spring “basho,” or tournament, because the ongoing investigation into the 14 wrestlers and elders allegedly involved in the bout-rigging is taking longer than expected. Tickets were originally scheduled to go on sale Sunday.
An independent special investigative panel that was supposed to finish the questioning Saturday has said it may take longer to get the whole picture than just one round of hearings with the 14 involved.
The panel has also decided to ask the people in question to voluntarily turn in their cell phones and bank books for further investigation.
It has been asked to report its findings to the sumo association’s executive committee this weekend.
Juryo wrestler Chiyohakuho, one of the grapplers who have admitted to fixing matches in major sumo tournaments, offered to quit the sport Thursday, while Chiyohakuho, Enatsukasa and sumo elder Takenawa have all admitted to involvement in bout-rigging.
Meanwhile, a regional summer tournament in Akita Prefecture scheduled for Aug. 8 has been canceled, meet organizers said Saturday.
NHK has already canceled its annual Fukushi Ozumo charity event scheduled for Friday and was also considering scrapping live coverage of the spring tournament.
News of the scandal broke Wednesday, when police officers involved in investigating illegal gambling on professional baseball in sumo circles last year discovered a number of cell phone text messages implying sumo bouts had been thrown.
Thirteen people were initially implicated in the scandal, although further probes carried out by the association revealed that a 14th person may have taken part.
Match-rigging claims are nothing new in sumo, but until now there had never been any public confessions by active wrestlers.
In 2000, Keisuke Itai, a former komusubi who wrestled under the name Itai, said he had been involved in rigging bouts during his 12-year career that lasted 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 tabloid 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 magazine 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 had also contributed to the magazine article, died within hours of each other on April 14, 1996.
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