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Friday, Oct. 17, 2008

SUMO SCRIBBLINGS

Why is ousted Wakanoho dishing the dirt now?


Special to The Japan Times Online

In recent weeks, sumo has been taking hits left, right and center.

Most relate to allegations of bout fixing, known as yaocho, that appeared in early 2007 in the tabloid Shukan Gendai, which made claims that, among others, current yokozuna Asashoryu benefited from such underhand dealings.

More recently though, the former Wakanoho, dismissed from the Sumo Association on Aug. 21 for admitted drug use, has added some weight to the tabloid’s claims by coming out and naming names in his own apparent quest to clean up the sport.

The timing of this mission, however, and his obvious need for money after losing what is in essence a job that paid over 1 million yen per month, has left more than a few raised eyebrows.

Similarly confusing are his recent comments suggesting two sumo elders with the initials of K and T (presumably two oyakata Kokonoe and Tomozuna) were known to use the yaocho method of bout-rigging. Wakanoho reportedly attempted to apologize to these two men in the days following his release from police detention and neither made much effort to hear out former maegashira so could we be looking at a case of petty revenge?

On top of this, Wakanoho is expected to claim in the latest issue of Shukan Gendai that ozeki pair Chiyotaikai (of Kokonoe Beya) and Kaio (of Tomozuna Beya) have both been involved in yaocho. Things are starting to smell decidedly fishy — even for neutrals watching the whole affair.

While Wakanoho has experience, albeit very limited, in going against the current ozeki pair, against Chiyotaikai twice (won 1, lost 1) and Kaio just three times (1-2 overall record), he never once won in forward-moving sumo himself, always with the backpedaling, sidestepping slap downs he became so (in)famous for. Furthermore, as his own defeats to the two long-time ozeki came around the time when he had admitted to using drugs, even more question marks can be penciled in next to his name.

Indeed, if the young Russian is now referring to their stable masters, Kokonoe and Tomozuna with the "K" and "T" initials, and their being involved in bought bouts when still active, he must have complete faith in his yaocho-revealing sources as Kaiki (now Tomozuna) retired from active sumo 18 months before Wakanoho’s birth, and the 20-year-old had not reached his third birthday when former yokozuna Chiyonofuji (Kokonoe) hung it up for good!

The young Russian has also named several other top-flight stars, including Sadogatake Beya ozeki Kotooshu and Kasuganishiki of Kasugano Beya as being involved in yaocho. In both cases, according to the interview, he demonstrates a wonderful memory for events, places, conversations and the exact techniques by which he lost, after being *supposedly* paid off on a Ryogoku street corner by Kotooshu to actually lose a bout. He, however, is a bit fuzzy about the car Kotooshu arrived in and the identity of the car's driver (sekitori are banned from driving themselves). Surely these details would help the prosectution.

One interesting side issue is Wakanoho's naming of "clean rikishi" who were apparently unwilling to participate in the bout-fixing system. Among those names of young Japanese hopefuls former komusubi Kisenosato, Goeido of Sakaigawa Beya and Tokitsukaze Beya’s Toyonoshima.

Tellingly absent from that list of gachinko (fair and square) fighters were the other two rikishi dismissed for drug use — brothers Roho and Hakurozan as they were once called. Neither were mentioned in his claims and insinuations that yaocho is part and parcel of everyday life, but surely he would have talked about it with his closest friends

* * * * *

The Sumo World Championships, an annual amateur tournament, has acted as a stepping stone to many a professional career in the sport, including those of Kotooshu, Roho, Hakurozan, Dejima and Kakizoe to name just a few. It was held just this past weekend in the sleepy town of Rakvere, Estonia, and not too surprisingly Japan stood head and shoulders above the competition.

The Japanese team claimed gold in each of the men’s light, middle and heavyweight classes with a Mongolian rikishi taking top spot in the open weight category. Russia took home the team gold, Japan the silver and Poland and Mongolia shared the bronze.

Meanwhile, Ireland's John Gunning, an English teacher in Tokyo by day/amateur rikishi by weekend, and one of only two foreign amateurs based in Japan competed for the second time at the world level yet failed to make it past the first round after being drawn against a former sandanme (fourth division) professional and also losing a second bout to an Italian amateur. He is now expected to focus on promoting the sport among his Irish brethren to ensure Emerald Isle participation in future world championships.



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