The Japan Sumo Association on April 1 took disciplinary action against 21 wrestlers and two stable masters for their involvement in match-fixing. Nineteen wrestlers — six in the elite makuuchi division, eight in the second-tire juryo division and five in lower divisions — and one stable master were called on to retire, while one stable master and two wrestlers were banned from sumo activities for two years.
By April 5, 21 wrestlers and one stable master retired. Stable master Tanigawa refused to retire, saying he never fixed matches during his 14 years’ career as a wrestler. He was fired April 6.
It is significant that the JSA, which had long denied charges of match-fixing, has finally admitted that it exists and has taken disciplinary actions against wrestlers and stable masters. Ultimately it had no choice as long-standing contention that match-fixing does not exist in the sumo world has been undermined by the investigation.
The match-fixing scandal surfaced about two months ago when text messages suggesting such activities were found on mobile phones by chance during a police investigation into illegal betting on pro baseball games by sumo wrestlers. A special investigation committee questioned wrestlers who played a central role in match-fixing and wrestlers who fought them on the ring. But it did not question all wrestlers, particularly those in the higher ranks. In this sense, the committee failed to unravel the whole picture of the scandal and its investigation remains incomplete.
Having seen the mass media reports, especially in weekly magazines, fans and others harbor strong suspicions that match-fixing is not a short-term problem involving only a few wrestlers, but rather a cancer that has been eating away at the sumo world for a long time.
Match-fixing is a betrayal to diligent wrestlers who devote themselves to fierce training every day, and to fans who expect to watch fact, not fiction. The JSA must strive to strengthen professionalism among wrestlers and adopt concrete measures that will help to prevent them from being lured into match-fixing.