The venerable Japanese sport of sumo wrestling may make the unprecedented move of canceling its next tournament because of allegations that wrestlers and coaches bet on baseball games.
Japan’s Sumo Association is considering suspending more than a dozen wrestlers and their coaches for the baseball gambling ring, which allegedly involved gangster middlemen.
Police are considering criminal action pending the outcome of its investigation of the betting accusations, which first appeared in the weekly press.
Even without charges, gambling is seen as a breach of discipline and not in keeping with stringent ethical standards sumo wrestlers are expected to observe.
The association’s chairman, former wrestler Musashigawa, was expected to announce later yesterday whether he would step down and suspend or fire the wrestlers and coaches who have been implicated.
A special panel assembled by the association also recommended the next tournament — one of only six held each year — be canceled if the actions are not taken.
“There will be no tomorrow for sumo unless they take these kind of measures,” said Shigeru Ito, the head of the panel.
The image of sumo wrestling, Japan’s ancient national sport, has taken a beating in recent months.
Its top wrestler, Mongolia’s Asashoryu, recently quit in disgrace after media reports that he got in a drunken altercation. The sport has also been involved in criminal investigations into the death of a wrestler who was brutally hazed and into the use of marijuana by wrestlers in its prestigious top division.
“Unless they take action like the ones we have recommended, they won’t be able to win back the public’s trust,” panel member Takayasu Okushima said in a press conference on Sunday night. “This is the result of all the scandals they haven’t dealt with in the past.”
The third-party oversight panel was to formally submit its recommendations to the Sumo Association’s executive board yesterday.
According to Japan’s Kyodo news agency, they were to suggest 15 wrestlers be suspended, along with 12 coaches.
It was also to recommend that one coach be expelled altogether.
Sumo’s next tournament is scheduled to begin in the central city of Nagoya on July 11. The Sumo Association has said that it would decide by Sunday whether it would be canceled.