Wed, Jul 07, 2010 - Page 19 News List

Broadcaster NHK pulls plug on grand sumo tournament

REUTERS , TOKYO

Japan’s NHK has decided to cancel live television broadcasts of this month’s grand sumo tournament in the latest fallout from a damaging gambling scandal.

Yesterday’s decision comes after champion wrestler Kotomitsuki was booted out of Japan’s ancient sport after a probe into an illegal baseball betting racket with alleged ties to local crime syndicates.

“Airing public broadcasts carries a heavily responsibility,” NHK president Shigeo Fukuchi told reporters after opting to cut live transmissions for the first time. “As Japan’s national sport, we want it to be clean and loved by the public.”

NHK started live broadcasts of sumo on radio in 1928 and on television from 1953.

Japan’s public broadcaster has received well over 1,000 complaints over the gambling furore, with some demanding this month’s Nagoya tournament not be televised.

Sponsors have also withdrawn from the event, one of six annual major tournaments which generate an estimated ¥8.5 billion in revenues.

The 34-year-old Kotomitsuki became the first ozeki — sumo’s second-highest rank after yokozuna — to suffer the humiliation of being fired.

His sacking following the arrest of a former wrestler on suspicion of extorting ¥3.5 million from Kotomitsuki, who alleged it was “hush money.”

Earlier yesterday, the government pressed sumo’s under-fire authorities to sever all links to organized crime groups.

“I’m asking them to hold discussions intended to eradicate the roots of the connections,” Japanese Education and Sports Minister Tatsuo Kawabata was quoted as saying by Kyodo news.

More than 60 wrestlers have confessed to gambling in the latest scandal to rock the sport.

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