Scandal forces tourney's cancellation

Updated: February 6, 2011, 1:50 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press