Sumo: Another Basho, Another Scandal

I was hoping to watch some TV coverage of the upcoming sumo basho while on vacation in Japan later this month, but yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor explains why that may not be possible. Japanese sumo scandals threaten to topple Nagoya tournament.

Japanese sumo scandals involving gambling and mob ties could upend an upcoming Nagoya tournament. Friday, public broadcaster NHK made the unprecedented threat to pull coverage of the tournament.

The uncovering of an illegal mob-run gambling ring in sumo has further tarnished Japan’s centuries-old national sport after a string of recent scandals and may lead to the first cancellation of a tournament in the postwar era. Sponsors have pulled out of the Nagoya Basho (tournament) – due to start July 11 – after dozens of wrestlers, senior officials, and others involved in the sport admitted gambling on baseball through a syndicate run by yakuza, or mafia.

Japan’s public broadcasting network, NHK, added to the sport’s woes Friday by announcing it might drop coverage of the event. The network said it had received 8,200 public comments, only about 10 percent of which supported going ahead with airing the Nagoya Basho….

Legal gambling in Japan is restricted to on-site betting on horses, speedboats, and cycling – all government-controlled. In addition there is the huge gray area of pachinko, a kind of vertical pinball game….

Many previous scandals of recent years have been centered round foreign wrestlers, much to Japanese relief. In 2008, three Russian grapplers were expelled for drug use, though a Japanese national also later tested positive. This year, grand champion Asashoryu – the third-most successful wrestler in sumo history and a Mongolian – had to retire after allegedly beating someone while on a drunken night out during the Tokyo Basho (which he went on to win).

But foreigners can’t always be blamed: In May, as the betting scandal unfolded, it emerged that stable-masters had given ringside seats to yakuza bosses at tournaments. The mobsters allegedly wanted to be seen by incarcerated gang members on the NHK broadcasts. The JSA took the unprecedented step of disbanding one of the sumo stables involved.

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