Two Japanese sumo wrestlers have been sidelined from the sport for their alleged involvement in illegal gambling.
The Japanese Sumo Association’s (JSA) compliance committee confirmed this week that elite makuuchi division wrestler Hidenoumi and second-tier juryo-division wrestler Shiden were targeted.
They are believed to have visited an underground gambling establishment that operated out of a store in the city of Sōka, Saitama Prefecture.
Japanese media reported that the gambling den was raided by police in September, and its management and customers were arrested. It’s not clear if the two wrestlers were present during the raids. Both were interviewed by Saitama Prefecture police on Jan. 7, according to reports.
On Thursday, the JSA committee reported its findings to the association’s President Hakkaku. A decision on how the wrestlers will be punished is expected on Jan. 27. They are likely to face lengthy bans.
Both Hidenoumi and Shiden have been excluded from the ongoing New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo.
Sumo wrestlers are required to live lives that are highly regimented and aligned with the strict, spartan traditions of the ancient sport. Most live in communal training stables, known as heya, where almost all aspects of their daily lives are controlled, from meals to the manner of dress.
Illegal online gambling is not generally part of the equation.
Vulnerable to Influence
Despite this culture of modesty and asceticism, the sport has been dogged by controversy in recent years, largely because of its alleged links to Yakuza societies and rumors of match-fixing.
Its hierarchical structure means that lower-ranked wrestlers are poorly paid, making them vulnerable to approaches from gambling syndicates. In 2011, police uncovered widespread match-fixing, which led to the retirement of 14 wrestlers.
A year earlier, the sport was rocked by scandal, as the JSA announced the dismissal of champion-rank wrestler Kotomitsuki and stablemaster Ōtake for betting on baseball games in a yakuza gambling ring. In addition, two stablemasters were demoted and 18 wrestlers were temporarily banned for their part in the scandal.
Meanwhile, the JSA prohibited “violent groups or antisocial forces” from accessing sumo venues, training stables, and other facilities.
In April 2010, Japan’s largest yakuza group, Yamaguchi-Gumi, block-bought 50 front row seats at a tournament so they could be prominently visible during the televised bout. This was done to cheer up an incarcerated syndicate boss who was watching from his prison cell, according to a 2010 New York Times article.
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