Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Scandals of Sumo

Probably no martial sport practiced today is more closely tied to tradition and shamanic ritual than Japan's Sumo Wrestling. The wrestlers have long represented Japan's Samurai heritage and stoic work ethic. They are national heroes.
-But now the close ties between Sumo and The Yakusa, Japan's mob, have risen to the surface. From a great series with embedded links, The New York Times investigates:

Beginning in July-
"On Sunday, the Japan Sumo Association, the sport’s governing body, announced the firing of a top wrestler and a stable master — a powerful coach who controls a cluster of wrestlers — for betting on professional baseball games in a gambling ring run by organized crime. Two other stable masters were demoted, and 18 other wrestlers were barred from competing in the next tournament.
This came after an apparently unrelated scandal two months ago over the sale of tickets for prized seats at the foot of the sport’s raised dirt ring to around 50 members of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime syndicate. The seats allowed the gangsters, known as yakuza, to be clearly visible during television broadcasts of the bouts, a brazen display that sumo experts said was aimed at cheering up an incarcerated syndicate boss watching from prison."

And now, text messages indicate wrestlers are "throwing" matches in pre-arranged wins and losses.

"“Please hit hard at the face-off, then go with the flow,” one of the wrestlers, Kiyoseumi, texted on the afternoon of May 10, according to a transcript of the messages leaked to local news media and published this week by the daily newspaper Mainichi.
“Understood,” Kasuganishiki, his opponent in the following day’s match, quickly replied. “I’ll go with the flow and put up at least a little resistance.”

"Now, government officials have said sumo may lose its status as a national sport, a status that has given it government backing, tax exemptions and guaranteed coverage by NHK."


Supporters say Sumo has always been rigged, as well as remained in contact with organized crime. Without such funding, the grand theatre of Sumo may fall into decline...


Zacky Chan said...

It's been all over the news here. The whole time I've been in Japan, it seems every couple months there is a scandal involving sumo. Interesting for gaijin looking for stories on yakuza and corruption, but not so good for the thousands of other aspiring wrestlers ne?

Stefan said...

This sounds eerily like what happened with the Pride Fighting Championships a few years ago. Granted, there was no finding that any fighters were throwing fights, but it was found that the Yakuza’s tendrils ran deep into that organization.

The allegations of corruption brought the whole thing crashing down and Japanese MMA is now all but dead. It seemed that almost overnight the organization went from selling out the Saitama Super Arena to selling off fighter’s contracts and closing up shop.

Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen here.