Sumo tournament canceled in wake of match-fixing scandal

TOKYO, Japan - Combination photo shows juryo-division wrestler Chiyohakuho (L) and sumo elder Takenawa (C), who have reportedly admitted to involvement in match-fixing, and lower-tier wrestler Enatsukasa, who did not deny involvement during questioning in Tokyo by the Japan Sumo Association on Feb. 2, 2011, after police said the same day text messages suggesting bout-fixing have been found on some wrestlers' confiscated cellphones. (Kyodo)

The Japan Sumo Association announced the first canceled tournament since 1946 in the wake of a series of text messages that brought to light a seemingly widespread system of match-fixing among sumo wrestlers.

According to the New York Times, police found text messages that link as many as 13 wrestlers to rigged bouts. Wrestlers must win at least eight matches to remain at a certain rank (and pay level); the rigging apparently occurred most often when a player without the requisite wins battled a player who had already won eight — trading the favor for a future courtesy or payment. Text messages under investigation refer to how the players would react when struck, alluded to giving appearance of a struggle, and in some cases, openly discussed payments for allowing a win. According to the Mainichi Daily News, several of the wrestlers under investigation had broken or changed phones recently, in a possible attempt to hide the evidence, but at least three of the implicated wrestlers have admitted to fixing games.

On Sunday, as a reaction to the scandal, which has shocked a nation that revered the sport as a celebrated tradition, the Sumo Association canceled the March basho, an annual tournament. According to the Mainichi Daily News, JSA Chairman Hanaregoma called the allegations “the biggest stain in sumo’s long history.”

About Beth Hillman

Beth Hillman taught English in Japan for four years. She's the co-founder and co-organizer of Joshikai San Francisco, a networking group for women with a connection to Japan.

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