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Bout-rigging scandal sidelines sumo tourney

March broadcast cancelled for first time since 1953

Tokyo– In reaction to a bout-rigging scandal that has rocked Japan’s national sport of sumo, the Japan Sumo Association has canceled the upcoming tournament skedded to start in Osaka on March 13. The cancellation, announced by the JSA on Sunday, means that pubcaster NHK, which has broadcast sumo’s 15-day tournaments on its general channel since 1953, will have a huge hole to fill in its sked.

NHK scratched its live broadcasts of the July 2010 tournament in Nagoya over another scandal arising from wrestlers allegedly betting on pro baseball games in cahoots with gangsters. At that time the pubcaster broadcast nightly digests of the day’s action. But this is the first time since 1946, when repairs on a war-damaged arena necessitated a hiatus, that the tourney itself has been canceled.

JSA chairman Hanaregoma told reporters that the sport would remain closed for business until the association gets to the bottom of the bout-rigging and punishes the guilty. In addition to the Osaka tourney, the JSA is canceling the four provincial tours skedded for this year. The May tournament, held annually in Tokyo, may also be in jeopardy. “This has become the biggest stain in the history of sumo,” Hanaregoma said. “We can’t apologize enough.”

The JSA has set up a special committee to investigate the bout-fixing, which came to light when police investigating the gambling wrestlers recovered deleted messages on their seized cellphones. Some of the grapplers, police learned, were also messaging about fixing bouts with tourney opponents. Of the fourteen wrestlers suspected of cheating to date three have reportedly admitted wrongdoing.

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