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Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011

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How 'bout that sumo?


The March Grand Sumo Tournament has been canceled due to bout-rigging. The May tournament is now in doubt as well. Who knows, sumo may be the world's first canceled sport.

I think the entire sport should be put on probation for a year. And the wrestlers who have done wrong should do public service announcements warning kids of the perils of greed, dishonesty and other unsportsmanlike conduct. So much for all that salt they throw around at the beginning of the game for purification. Pure lies, is more like it.

What's got me stumped is all the talk about this event has let the fans down. Of course sumo has let down its fans, but they've let down much more than that. They've let down the entire sport and the professional sports world too. They've let me down, and I'm not even a "fan."

Most importantly, however, they are letting down themselves. What merit lies in a sport — oops, let me rephrase that — what merit is there in a sport if it is not played fairly? With privilege should come responsibility. Those who took part in bout-rigging should apologize to talented kids who never got a chance to pursue professional sports because of adverse circumstances such as civil war, poverty and disease.

If the sumo world thinks this unfortunate event influences only their own fans, they're mistaken. Again. I bet they even — oops — they probably even knew bout-rigging was going on and simply looked the other way. For years some have claimed that sumo wrestlers have been involved in "fixed bouts, tax evasion, the underworld, drugs and orgies." Hmm, that last one gives me the heebie jeebies. One stable master even wrote a book titled "Yaocho." Guess what the title means? "Rigged."

But one fan, commenting on the future of the sport, said, "Sumo would not be a sport if bout-rigging takes place." If this is true, sumo stopped being a sport as early as 1978, when public rumors first surfaced. Then, a former stable master and a sumo insider warned people of the sordid dealings in the sumo world via an article in a tabloid in 1996. Mysteriously, both of these informants died shortly after the article was published. In addition, a former komusubi ("little knot") untied a big one in 2002 when he admitted involvement in bout-rigging from 1978 to 1991. What I want to know is, when is the movie coming out?

So, if sumo is not a sport, is it still sumo? If it's not either, then what is it? It's somewhere between sumo and a sport. It's a sumort.

The Japan Sumo Association, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is still putting the pieces together in the investigation of the scandal. They have asked all wrestlers for their cooperation, even those who have broken their cell phones to destroy incriminating text message evidence.

Now the authorities are further grappling with the question of why so many wrestlers turned to fixing bouts. One expert suggests bout-fixing arose out of a "need" for young sumo wrestlers who find it difficult to make a living in the sport, and that wrestlers in the lowest division may not get paid at all (although room and board is paid). Hey, welcome to sports! Even for those who do make it, he says, their success may be short-lived and their retirement unsure. Ha! Try being a gaijin in Japan.

These are problems not unique to sumo. It remains that bout-fixing is illegal and it is cheating. Just as drugging is. And just like any other sport, this needs to be addressed and changed in order to bring the sumort back to a full-fledged sport.

There are some honest wrestlers among the rogues. We should try to help them succeed by finding them jobs during the canceled tournaments. Think of all the training they've gone through, all the bowls of chanko nabe! This should not go to waste. It's not fair to them. Can't we fix this? Oops, sorry.

Size-wise, they've got a huge advantage over other candidates for certain jobs. Perhaps they could follow in the footsteps of ex-Yokozuna Akebono and do children's programs. There must be a call for a dozen jelly doughnuts in at least one of those episodes. Furthermore, sumo wrestler bodies harbor a lot of heat. The wrestlers could help to boost their sumort's image by giving out hugs at train stations to help keep people warm. Or they could take up figure skating and give exhibitions to raise money.

Lastly, I believe they could sell replicas of themselves as stuffed dolls. Who wouldn't want a life-size sumo wrestler pillow to snuggle up with at night? I've always thought blow-up dolls were missing the point. You want something cuddly, something that cuddles back.

The sumo stable is very unstable right now. And for the first time in a long time, no one knows what will happen next in the sumo world. How 'bout that?



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