Cancellation of Spring meet leaves wrestlers at loose end

SCANDAL HITS SUMO — Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji (R) practices in Tokyo on Feb. 7. The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in March has been canceled due to a bout-rigging racket. Harumafuji told reporters after the practice session he will do his best to try and help win back the trust of sumo fans. Kyodo News photo

TOKYO — As the crisis-torn Japan Sumo Association grapples with the sport’s biggest and most damaging scandal, wrestlers are at a loose end following the cancellation of the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

In what JSA Chairman Hanaregoma described as the “darkest chapter” in sumo’s centuries-old history, the sport’s governing body confirmed Feb. 6 that the March 13-27 basho in Osaka would be the first tournament to be canceled since 1946 due to a bout-rigging racket.

“This is the first time to experience anything like this so I’m not really sure how I should be dealing with it,’’ said veteran Mongolian maegashira Kyokutenho.

“What are we supposed to train for now? As each day passes, I can more and more feel the gravity of this problem,’’ he said.

Spare a thought for Kisenosato. The sour-faced sekiwake, who pulled off two massive upsets over lone yokozuna Hakuho at the Kyushu meet in November and at last month’s New Year basho, would have been making a run at ozeki promotion in Osaka had the tournament gone ahead as planned.

“It’s a real shame,’’ said Kisenosato.

Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu said, “I feel really sorry for the people who were looking forward to Osaka. I will train so that I am ready for whenever the next basho is held.”

Popular maegashira Homasho added, “I’m sad. The Osaka meet only comes around once a year and I was so looking forward to it.”

Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji pledged to do his best to try and help win back the trust of sumo fans.

“The fans have been betrayed,” said Harumafuji. “We have to really try hard to win back the fans that have supported sumo.”

Hanaregoma apologized Feb. 6 and admitted it would be impossible to hold the Osaka meet amid the current debacle as it would only create more turmoil for fans and wrestlers who were not involved in the scandal.

Along with the spring meet all regional tours for the rest of the year have been called off.

“We have decided to give up on holding the spring meet. Until we can completely root out corruption in the sport, we cannot show sumo on the ring,’’ said Hanaregoma. “After betraying our fans, we must do everything in our power, acting swiftly to uncover the facts surrounding the scandal as soon as possible,” he said.

Hanaregoma was set to report the JSA’s decisions from Feb. 6’s emergency board meeting to sports minister Yoshiaki Takaki later Feb. 7.

A total of 14 people were implicated in match fixing when police inadvertently found text messages suggesting bouts were rigged during a separate investigation into a gambling ring last year.

Match-rigging claims are nothing new in sumo but until now there have never been any public admissions from wrestlers still active in the sumo world.

The bout rigging and subsequent cancellation of the spring meet has seen sumo hit a fresh nadir.

Last year former ozeki Kotomitsuki and several other wrestlers were kicked out of the sport while others were suspended or demoted after admitting involvement in an illegal gambling ring.

Asashoryu, a former yokozuna great, was forced to retire last year after assaulting a man outside a Tokyo nightclub, while a number of wrestlers were expelled for marijuana use in 2009.

Sumo was also ordered to crack down on widespread abuse of young trainees after a 17-year-old wrestler died after being subjected to violent initiation rites by three colleagues in 2007.

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