Major sumo tourney canceled amid scandal

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Major sumo tourney canceled amid scandal

TOKYO - The Japan Sumo Association called off its March tournament Sunday, the first cancellation in 65 years, as the country’s ancient sport grapples with a match-fixing scandal.

Two wrestlers and a coach admitted last week to fixing bouts after police found text messages on confiscated mobile phones that implicated as many as 13 wrestlers in match-rigging.

The latest scandal has rocked sumo, which is already reeling from a string of recent embarrassing incidents, including illegal gambling and drug use among wrestlers.

The Japan Sumo Association said an emergency meeting had decided to call off the Mar. 13-27 Spring Grand Sumo Tournament. Cancelling the event was unprecedented, the association said.

“We have decided to cancel the spring tournament due to the bout-rigging scandal,’’ said Nobuyuki Kubota, an official at the association.

The last cancellation of a sumo tournament happened in 1946. But that was because of a delay in repair work at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Japan’s main sumo venue, which was damaged during World War II.

Sumo traces its origins to religious purification rites and most Japanese see sumo wrestlers as the keepers of a prized tradition, expecting them to observe a high standard of public behavior and wear their hair in topknots like the samurai of old.

The text messages uncovered by police indicated that the wrestlers routinely fixed bouts and charged hundreds of thousands of yen (thousands of dollars) per match to do so.

A panel set up by the sumo association has launched a probe into the scandal. The association said the panel is investigating 12 wrestlers and two coaches in connection with the match-fixing scandal.

Last year, several wrestlers were arrested 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 expulsion of three Russian fighters. Rumors of ties between sumo wrestlers and the underworld have been rife, and the baseball gambling scandal deeply hurt sumo’s image.

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

There were no immediate reports of gangsters mentioned in the latest scandal.

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