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Scandal forces tourney's cancellation

2/6/2011

TOKYO -- The Japan Sumo Association called off its March
tournament Sunday as the country's ancient sport grappled with a
match-fixing scandal.

Two wrestlers and a coach recently admitted to fixing bouts
after police found text messages on confiscated 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 it had decided to call off the
Spring Grand Sumo Tournament from March 13-27. The cancellation due
to a scandal was unprecedented, the association said.

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

The last cancellation of a sumo tournament happened in 1946. But
it was due to a delay in repairing work at Ryogoku Kokugikan,
Japan's main sumo venue, which was damaged during World War II.

Sumo traces its origins to religious purification rites. Most
Japanese see sumo wrestlers as the keepers of a prized tradition
and expect 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 the wrestlers
routinely fixed bouts.

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
allegations.

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.