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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011
National sport on its knees
The Japan Sumo Association, rocked by a match-rigging scandal, has decided to cancel Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, which would have started March 13 in Osaka. This is the first time that a grand sumo tournament known as hon-basho has been canceled since the summer of 1946, when the summer tournament that year was scrapped due to a delay in the renovation of the former Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium in Tokyo, which had been damaged during World War II. This is also the first time that a scandal has forced cancellation of hon-basho.
The JSA has been battered by one scandal after another. Yokozuna Asashoryu was forced to retire in February 2010 for assaulting a man outside a Tokyo night club. Later last year, betting money on pro baseball games cost Ozeki Kotomitsuki and several other wrestlers banishment from the sumo world and other JSA members disciplinary measures. In 2009, a marijuana scandal hit the sumo world, and in 2007, a 17-year-old wrestler was beaten to death by three other wrestlers.
The match-fixing scandal, which means corruption in the ring itself, hits the core of sumo, completely damaging people's trust in the integrity of wrestlers. This scandal is a betrayal of sumo fans who have believed that sumo wrestlers, who have built up their bodies through harsh training, give full play to their strength in the ring. If they think that sumo does not deserve the name of kokugi, or national sport, no one can blame them.
In the course of investigation into last year's scandal of sumo wrestlers' illegal gambling on pro baseball games, the police came across text messages suggesting rigging of sumo bouts. The JSA's special investigation committee started interrogating 14 wrestlers suspected of having been involved in match fixing. Three of them have admitted to wrongdoing. Although the committee has decided that another was involved in match fixing, he insists on his innocence. The JSA plans to question all the wrestlers in and above the juryo ranking. No matter how much bleeding the questioning may take, the JSA must carry it through to regain people's trust.