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Torch of sumo tradition flickers after match-fixing
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Can the Japan Sumo Association continue to bear the responsibility of carrying on sumo as the "national sport"? The JSA faces the crisis of its existence being called into question as it has been forced to cancel a forthcoming sumo tournament.

Shaken by a match-fixing scandal, the JSA decided Sunday to cancel the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament scheduled to start on March 13 at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium.

It is the first cancellation of a grand tournament in 65 years since the 1946 summer grand tournament was canceled due to a delay in repair work on the previous Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena amid the postwar chaos. This is the first time for a grand tourney to be canceled due to a scandal, leaving a hard-to-erase blemish on the long history of sumo.

As reasons for the cancellation, the JSA said, among other things, it would otherwise be impossible to obtain the understanding of fans and it would take time to conduct investigations of the 14 current and former sumo wrestlers allegedly involved in the scandal. JSA Chairman Hanaregoma told a news conference, "We cannot show sumo matches on the dohyo ring until we can eliminate the pus [from the sport]."


Fans betrayed

The top priority of the JSA should be to thoroughly probe the match-fixing scandal and severely punish all found to be involved. If this is taken into consideration, the JSA's cancellation of the spring grand tournament was the right decision.

Match-fixing flatly contradicts any claim that sumo is a real fighting sport. It also represents a betrayal of the fans, who expect to see hard-fought bouts.

Many fans in Osaka must feel regret over the cancellation of the spring tournament, which is the only basho held in the city each year.

But if the tournament were to be held under the present circumstances, suspicious eyes would be cast even over wrestlers not involved in the match-fixing scandal. If sumo becomes suspect, it does not deserve the claim of being the national sport.

A seven-member special investigation panel, consisting of four lawyers and three other outsiders, is tasked with uncovering the whole truth behind the scandal. The panel has conducted a questionnaire survey of all wrestlers and other JSA members concerning their involvement in the match-fixing scandal. But we think it is impossible to grasp the whole picture with such a pro forma probe alone.

It is necessary to make in-depth investigations by going as far as interrogating the suspected wrestlers after analyzing past bouts suspected to have been fixed.

JSA claim falls flat

The JSA had persistently asserted, "There is no match-fixing whatsoever." The association has established punitive steps for intentionally spiritless bouts and issued warnings to wrestlers every time their bouts were found to lack a fighting spirit. But it had never probed whether they fixed matches.

As some of the 14 current and former wrestlers suspected to have been involved in the scandal admitted the alleged match-fixing, the JSA's assumption of "no match-fixing whatsoever" has crumbled. The association must clearly mention in its punitive provisions that wrestlers found to be involved in match-fixing will be expelled from the sumo world.

The JSA is a public-interest corporation entitled to preferential tax treatment. The association must remember it has the responsibility of working out measures that can convince the public that the sport is clean. (From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 7, 2011)(Feb. 8, 2011)

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