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29 November 2023

Sumo faces reports of bout-fixing

Police had no immediate comment. It was not clear if a formal criminal investigation would be launched. (AP)


Japan's scandal-tainted national sport of sumo wrestling is facing new allegations that senior wrestlers used cell phones to plan how to fix matches.

Japanese media reported Wednesday that police have found suspicious text messages on several wrestlers' cell phones suggesting they were planning to fix bouts and going so far as to detail how one would attack and how he wanted his opponent to fall.

The text messages, found on the phones of wrestlers in sumo's second-highest division, indicate that the wrestlers routinely fixed bouts and charged hundreds of thousands of yen (thousands of dollars) per match to do so, according to Japan's Kyodo news service.

Public broadcaster NHK, which airs the six annual sumo tournaments live, carried a similar report. It said sumo officials were planning to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the matter.

Police had no immediate comment. It was not clear if a formal criminal investigation would be launched.

Japan Sumo Association chairman Hanaregoma said he was aware of the reports, but had not been contacted by police.

"We are examining the situation," he said.

Sumo - which has its roots in ancient religious purification rituals - has been dogged by scandals.

Several wrestlers were arrested last year for betting illegally on baseball games, allegedly with gangsters as go-betweens. That scandal followed allegations in 2009 of widespread marijuana use among the ranks that led to the explusion of three Russian fighters.

Kyodo said the text messages this time were found on phones confiscated when police were investigating the baseball gambling ring.

Last week, reports surfaced that three sumo wrestlers were involved in drunken incidents, including a late-night brawl.

Scandals are particularly high profile for sumo because it is seen by most Japanese as not only a sport but a bastion of Japanese tradition and culture, and wrestlers are expected to observe a high standard of public behavior.

But rumors of ties with the underworld have been rife, and the baseball gambling scandal deeply sullied sumo's image.

Unsubstantiated allegations of gangster involvement in bout-fixing have plagued the sport for decades, but have never been proved.