02/07/2011, 00.00
JAPAN
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Corruption in sumo wrestling leads to tournament cancellation

Police is investigating text messages that implicate 14 people in bout fixing. For the first time, a tournament is cancelled.

Osaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) cancelled the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka due to allegations about match fixing. JSA president Hanaregoma confirmed the decision, saying it was taken out of respect for fans and to enable police investigate the case with greater ease.

The case came to light last Thursday when police found text messages suggesting bouts had been rigged. Altogether 14 people are said to be involved. However, rumours about rigging and corruption have been flying around for decades but nothing has ever been proven.

"Until we can completely root out corruption in the sport, we cannot show sumo in the ring," said Hanaregoma at a press conference. "We will do everything in our power, acting swiftly to uncover the facts surrounding the scandal as soon as possible."

The text messages were found on mobile phones police seized in the course of their investigation last year into sumo players' illicit gambling on baseball.

For Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the whole affair “is a serious betrayal of the people.”

In 1996, Onaruto, former stable master of famed sumo wrestler Itai, opened a can of worms by alleging in the Shukan Post that sumo, a centuries-old sport steeped in tradition and an almost feudalistic moral code, was rife with fixed bouts, tax evasion, drugs and underworld connections.

Last year former ozeki (champion) Kotomitsuki and several other wrestlers were kicked out of the sport whilst others were suspended or demoted after admitting involvement in an illegal gambling ring linked to the yakuza.

The Osaka tournament was scheduled to start on 13 March. It is the first ‘Basho’ (contest) to be cancelled since 1946 due to a bout-rigging scandal.

The summer tournament of 1946 was scrapped due to a delay in renovation work at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium in Tokyo, which was damaged during the war.

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