How to weed out a wrestling wizard


Centuries ago, the Europeans and, in some cases, Americans liked nothing better than a spot of witch-hunting on a quiet news day.

For those with a talent or two above the norm, perhaps a little stronger, faster in one form or other, more intelligent than average, it could be a downright deadly time to be alive.

Many bizarre methods were concocted to “identify” the witches but perhaps none more so than the practice of tying a “suitable” person to a chair, throwing them into a pond or a body of water then waiting to see what happened next.

If they sank, they were innocent and grieved, but if they floated, evidence of sorcery was deemed sufficient and they were marched off for a date with a big wooden stake, lots of branches and death by toasting.

Of course this practice has now been banned with good reason — we’ve got diminishing wood supplies and global warming concerns to think of. So how do we find witches in the 21st century?

Take a look at the sumo world. How can the wizardry of a wrestler be revealed without oversize chairs, lakes and burning stakes?

Simple: Publish reports without checking the facts, stand by the allegations of individuals apparently intimate with the sport but identified only by initials, and, of course, rely on unnamed rikishi to carry the bulk of the story.

In short, believe every word published in the Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Gendai in its recent articles that all but label yokozuna Asashoryu as a man contaminated by his tendency to fix matches, to buy his bouts and, in knock-on effect, yusho — in at least the Kyushu 2006 and Hatsu 2007 tournaments.

We could then, as Shukan Gendai did, throw in a dash of guesswork by seeing one man’s continued dominance over another as “dirty,” “purchased” and “bought” — call it what you will; the supposed result of financial irregularities are more on a par with politics and bid-rigging than with sumo.

What we should not do, at any point, is to back up claims with fact, with identifiable names, with documented evidence of financial transaction and dive-taking. Why not? Because the truth, more often than not, fails to sell magazines! To guarantee high circulation, you need find Elvis in 7-11.

Alien sightings aside, the Nihon Sumo Kyokai has responded in a fair and even manner to the claims by questioning all the supposedly involved, though some may quite justifiably argue that a lack of evidence deserves disdain as opposed to the grilling of unproven offenders.

Having said that, with the Osaka Haru Basho just around the corner, and with a magazine-reading public gullible enough to fall for the “natto (as a diet aid) farce” in recent weeks, defensive maneuvers regarding such allegations needed to be swift and public. NSK’s were both and, as has been widely documented, the association is now stepping forth on the legal road to retribution.

Unofficially, none of the 40-50 Japanese I have the pleasure of meeting regularly could find anything credible about the allegations. None could believe the story. Are they naive, or just blinkered? Yes, completely naive, firmly blinkered, if we have magically returned to an era of kangaroo courts and “guilty until proven innocent.” And if the judiciary is indeed run by marsupials I will throw up my hands, shop for a suitably sized chair and start collecting the wood for Asashoryu’s toasting.

For now, though, we can take pleasure in sitting back and watching the writer in question — Yorimasa Takeda — and publisher Kodansha Ltd. squirm.

The coming weeks and months will be a time for the publisher to put-up or shut-up and, if found to have opted for fiction over fact, pay whatever price the court deems fit compensation.

Whatever happens, should the case be lost when push finally comes to shove, Takeda can rest assured in the fact that he has a spot on the pages of fictional Japanese sports history alongside, among others, current Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, whose similar claims of a fixed bout in the early 1960s ended in his own retreat and apology.