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As the Japan Sumo Association grapples with the sport’s biggest and most damaging scandal yet, wrestlers are at loss over how to deal with the cancellation of the March “basho.”

JSA Chairman Hanaregoma, describing the bout-fixing scandal as the “darkest chapter” in sumo’s centuries-old history, confirmed Sunday that the March 13 to 27 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament would be the first basho canceled since 1946.

“This is the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like this, so I’m not really sure how I should be dealing with it,” veteran Mongolian maegashira Kyokutenho said Monday. “What are we supposed to train for now? As each day passes, I feel more and more the gravity of this problem.”

Spare a thought for Kisenosato. The sour-faced sekiwake, who pulled off two massive upsets over lone yokozuna Hakuho — at the Kyushu meet in November and at last month’s New Year basho — would have been making a run for promotion to ozeki in Osaka had the tournament gone ahead as planned.

“It’s a real shame,” said Kisenosato.

Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu said: “I feel really sorry for the people who were looking forward to Osaka. I will train so that I am ready for whenever the next basho is held.”

Popular maegashira Homasho added: “I’m sad. The Osaka meet only comes around once a year and I was so looking forward to it.”

Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji pledged to do his best to try and help win back the trust of sumo fans.

“The fans have been betrayed,” said Harumafuji. “We have to really try hard to win back the fans who have supported sumo.”

Fans, experts and government officials lashed out at the scandal.

“The cancellation is reasonable. Sumo would not be a sport if bout-rigging takes place. People will be let down if they watch fixed matches,” said Yutaka Nishimura, a 67-year-old fan in Osaka.

Kawachiya Kikusuimaru, 47, who said he had seen the spring tournament in Osaka since when he was in the sixth grade, expressed regret, saying, “I have never seen a spring without sumo.”

Eijiro Emoto, 55, a former sumo wrestler in the third-tier makushita division, said, “There have been rumors of match-fixing since I was a wrestler. Members of successive JSA boards should be equally held responsible for overlooking the problem for a long time.”

“When I think about the wrestlers who have been training hard . . . I feel extremely sorry,” said elder Fujigane, who was working on organizing the aborted tournament.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano urged the JSA to deal strictly with the scandal, and many in Osaka accepted the unprecedented decision to cancel next month’s tournament.

“Getting to the bottom of the matter thoroughly and taking strict action is the (JSA’s) responsibility to fans and the people,” Edano earlier told reporters in Saitama on Sunday.

Edano also said the question of whether to hold the summer tournament in May will depend on the progress of the sumo association’s efforts to curb wrongdoing.

“It would not be tolerated” under current circumstances if the association fails to reveal the facts behind the match-fixing allegations and impose any punishments, he said.

The sports ministry, which directly oversees the sumo association, accepted the decision to cancel the spring tourney because it felt the investigation into the bout-fixing should take priority.

“The cancellation is extremely regrettable but conditions are not right to hold the tournament. It seems an appropriate decision,” said an official of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

NHK, which customarily televises sumo matches, released a statement ruing the cancellation and called on the JSA to get to the bottom of the scandal.

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