[sumo] Doreen's interview on the current scandal
Barbara Ann Klein
baklein at attglobal.net
Tue Jun 29 08:39:27 EDT 2010
Is this the interview you referenced last week (I think)? This from NPR, and
has gotten play in some other outlets as well.
If you can't open the link:
Japans national sport, sumo wrestling, has long been sullied by episodes of
violent hazing, drug use, a shortage of local recruits and sagging
But Japanese wrestling has been shaken to its core by revelations of illegal
gambling and mob connections at sumos highest levels.
On Monday, the Japan Sumo Association said it may force 15 wrestlers and 14
stable masters to sit out the next tournament, and a handful are facing
expulsion over allegations that they bet on baseball games. Gambling is seen
as a breach of discipline and not in keeping with stringent ethical
standards sumo wrestlers are expected to observe.
Dozens of sumo wrestlers and club owners, known as stable masters, have
confessed involvement in illegal gambling.
Sumo journalist Takayuki Watanabe says the worst offenders were 29 sumo
wrestlers and officials who bet on baseball.
To wager on baseball, you need to know the game well, and you need plenty
of cash. That excludes junior wrestlers, because they dont earn salaries.
So only the most talented, the most popular wrestlers seen on TV are able to
gamble on baseball. Thats what has been so shocking, Watanabe says.
Topknots, Wagers And The Mob
The details of the scandal involve a hairdresser who served as courier
between wrestlers and the Japanese mob, known as the yakuza, to place the
bets. Hairdressers, who create the perfumed and oiled topknots that
wrestlers wear, are a constant presence at sumo stables.
In the past few years, scandal has become as much a part of sumo as
loincloths and bulk-up diets. The legendary sport seemed to start its
tailspin back in 2007, when a teenage recruit was killed during a violent
training session. Later, four wrestlers were fired for marijuana use.
And then, this year, one of the two reigning champions was forced to retire
after a series of problems, ending with a drunken brawl. That one-time sumo
star, Asashoryu, was Mongolian.
The episode seemed to reinforce perceptions that the globalization of sumo
was bringing down the sport. Sumo has come to be dominated by men from
developing countries, those willing to endure the grueling regimen for a
chance to become champions, and multimillionaires.
Higher Standard Of Ethics For Sumo Wrestlers
Sumo has always stood for more than just sport. It dates back at least 1,500
years and is part of the founding myth of Japan itself legend holds that
the Japanese won their islands in a sumo bout of the gods.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Tokyo, says
wrestlers are an impressive sight on Tokyo streets.
I do think the public holds them to a higher standard, Kingston says. If
you look at them around streets with their flowing yukata [robes] on their
wooden geta [footwear], and topknots, I mean, they do look like throwbacks
to the past, and so they are sort of modern representations of traditional
mores and virtues, Kingston says.
Veteran sumo commentator Doreen Simmons says she think this latest scandal
represents a huge crisis for the sport. This time, she says, there arent
any foreign suspects to blame.
All the other problems that have surfaced recently were one-offs that could
be treated as individual problems. This is the bedrock; this is the whole
sumo association. Not everybody, by any means, but an awful lot of people,
including major stable masters, some of the most successful men, Simmons
Scandal Involved Collaboration With Convicts?
One of the more outrageous allegations is that yakuza foot soldiers are able
to get coveted front-row seats to sumo tournaments and literally communicate
with pals in prison thanks to national TV, says Watanabe, of Japans TBS TV
Convicts are allowed to watch sumo live on TV. The reason why Mafioso want
to sit close to the ring is to get on TV. Then their boss in prison can see
that theyre doing well, and they can demonstrate their loyalty, Watanabe
Simmons says sumo and the yakuza have a long and complicated history.
As long as Ive followed sumo, which is 35 years or so, theres been this
fight against the yakuza, the gangsters, established crime, Simmons says.
But of course the reason there is a fight is because theres a lot of money
around. And some of the oyakata, the famous wrestlers, are involved always
have been, Simmons says.
Rumors of match-fixing have swirled around sumo for years. The secretive and
insular sumo association has never investigated these allegations.
Kingston, of Temple University, says the latest scandal is the most damning
circumstantial evidence yet that organized crime members have the leverage
to force wrestlers to throw matches.
Mob-linked gambling on baseball, which is illegal, is involving many people
in the sumo world. So the fact that the yakuza and the sumo sit
uncomfortably close together in the media, I think, is raising suspicions,
While next months tournament will proceed without some of its most talented
wrestlers, the audience may be drastically reduced.
Japans NHK state broadcasting network has been deluged with angry letters from citizens, demanding that it pull the plug on sumo programming. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]
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