Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sumo's colossus in probe on match-fixing By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

The man who bestrides the sumo world like a colossus has been implicated in match-fixing claims that are rocking Japan's national sport.

Asashoryu has so few rivals some wonder what he would gain from fixed fights
Asashoryu, the Mongolian-born grand champion, will appear before a panel of the Japan Sumo Association on Tuesday to answer allegations that he has arranged for bouts to be thrown. Asashoryu won his 20th career title at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament this month in typically resounding fashion, losing only one bout. Some question whether a man so dominant would need fights fixed in his favour.

"I suspect that there are some in the sport who do not like the fact that he is winning every tournament so easily," said Fred Varcoe, a sports journalist who has covered sumo for two decades. "There are absolutely no Japanese challengers to his dominance and he is closing in on the records of the true greats."

Renowned home-grown wrestler Taiho had 32 career victories and the immensely popular Chiyonofuji took 31.

The sumo association has already questioned wrestlers below the rank of sekiwake, or third division. None has admitted surrendering bouts. The five men who make up the second-highest level in the sport, ozeki, are to give their testimony on Monday.

The other members of Asashoryu's stable were questioned on Wednesday, with the sport's chief supervisor, Tomozuna, telling reporters: "All the wrestlers said 'I have no recollections of that'."
"I also do not believe there has been any fixing of matches," he said.
Past reports of misbehaviour in the sport would not seem to bear that out, however. A great deal of money is wagered on tournaments. The last time there were match-fixing allegations, in 2000, the two wrestlers who made the claims died within days of each other of mysterious liver complaints.

"A lot of people think the coincidences are too great," said Mr Varcoe.

"Add to that the fact that most people accept that sumo is corrupt and they are not too surprised at these latest allegations.

"They are asking themselves not whether bouts are being fixed, but who stands to gain the most if Asashoryu is disgraced."

The JSA is due to release its findings on Thursday. Mr Tomozuna added: "We want to use this as an opportunity to rid sumo of all suspicion."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Behind the Curtain - March 2007

As the curtain rises at the only tourney in Osaka each year, we will see 3 men step out from behind the curtain, one of which is new to wearing the silk mawashi.

Ms2e Takamifuji of Azumazeki Beya registered a 5-2 outcome last Basho and became the only wrestler new to the Juryo rank this time around.

Since Takamifuji is our first timer, let’s see what story is behind the man in the mawashi. He quit a job as a civil servant to just sumo at the rank of Makushita 15 Tsukedashi at the 2004 Haru Basho. "I realized up here, that I could not keep winning by going with only half hearted efforts. Unlike in the amateur world, you cannot survive by simply doing average things in the pro," said Takamifuji.

In his 4th year in Toyo University, he had been College Yokozuna once in his college sumo experience. However, he gave up his dream of going into professional sumo and went home to Okayama prefecture to get involved in a All Japan Athletic Tournament scheduled for 2005. He worked as a tournament organizer, "Of course I was planning to live a normal life once the Tournament is over. I was more or less thinking of spending the rest of my life in a rather secure and ordinary environment as a government employee."

Then in September 2005, he the Yokozuna title again, at the national non-college level amateur athletic sumo championship. He found that he still had a fire in his belly for competing in sumo. He talked to Azumazeki oyakata when he was in Okayama prefecture on a scouting trip, and this seems to be the turning point, Takamifuji decided to enter Sumo, "I felt I was more suited to work with sweat pouring all over my body than facing a computer all day."

The happy ending here is that when Takamifuji joined sumo, he said that his goal was to make sekitori to be able to repay his mother, Keiko, 53, who single-handedly raised him, his younger brother and two sisters.

Ms3w Hokutoiwa of Hakkaku Beya completed the Shogatsu Basho with a nice record of 5-2. This is the 3rd time he has stepped out from behind the curtain, and he has a set trend of stepping out only in the month of March. Ms1e Shiraishi of Onoe Beya notched a 4-3 record at the Kokugikan in January. Since he was ranked at the very top of Makushita, all he needed was a winning record to guarantee his ticket back into the paid ranks. He debuted in sumo 3 years ago this month.

For these three wrestlers to move into the limelight, three wrestlers must move down the ladder to make room. At this time, the demotion can only be predicted, here are the likely suspects to step behind the curtain.

J12w Wakanoho of Magaki Beya only managed 5 wins (5-10) in Tokyo, so he can expect to go back to the black cotton mawashi. His record in the paid ranks is just the one Basho but he is young and inexperienced, so another tourney or two in Makushita should see him back in front of the curtain.

J9w Sumanofuji of Nakamura Beya got only 2 wins (2-5-8) and then got hurt and dropping out on the 7th day of the tournament. He made a brief visit behind the curtain July 2005. As long as he can recover quickly from his injury, we should see him back in Juryo by the Aki Basho.

J10e Wakatoba of Oguruma Beya only got 1 win (1-4-10), hurt on day 4 and dropped out on the 5th day of the Basho. Wakatoba will be 30 years old this June, so it could be tough to fight his way back through the curtain.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Gareth MacFadyen Cup

The Gareth MacFadyen Cup , more commonly known as the GM Cup is a local derby-style memorial Rugby footballrugby match contested on an annual basis in Tokyo, Japan, between the two leading foreign rugby teams in Japan; the Tokyo Crusaders and the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club.

The match is played in memoriam for Gareth MacFadyen (1976-2000), a young New Zealander who was a successful young stockbroker and a leading player for both teams on the social rugby circuit in Japan during a period spanning 1996 to 2000.

Gareth MacFadyen
MacFadyen's tragic death in 2000 was widely reported through both the Japanese, New Zealander and rugby news media for its untimely and unfortunate circumstances.

He died from extensive burns suffered as a result of being set alight while in costume as a prank during a Christmas work party by a colleague. His colleague was subsequently jailed for two years on the charge of manslaughter in New Zealand in 2001.

Gareth MacFadyen was notable for playing for both the Tokyo Crusaders and the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club rugby teams, which are considered traditional rivals in the greater Tokyo region.

The Tokyo Crusaders rugby club retired their number 8 jumper – being Gareth's preferred playing position, as a mark of respect in 2001.

History of the Cup
The Gareth MacFadyen cup was designed in Brisbane, Australia and made in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2001 as a result of sizeable charitable donations made by Tokyo Crusader and YCAC club members.

The trophy is a sterling silver cup with winged floral handles on a polished hardwood base, measuring some 60 centimeters in height and surmounted by a golden crusader figurine.

The concepts of a trophy and memorial grudge match were proposed by Michael Mayrseidl and Rob Keay respectively as members of the Tokyo Crusaders rugby club.

The trophy match itself is traditionally held at the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club's ground in Yamate and is played under standard international rugby rules.

Both sides contest the memorial trophy with the winner of the match retaining the right to hold and display the trophy. The trophy is currently installed in Paddy Foley's Irish Bar in Roppongi.

Previous years events have seen the MacFadyen family flown out to Japan from New Zealand to present the winning team with the Cup. Future matches are slated to have international level referees suchas Paddy O'Brien officiating.

In the 5 years since its inception it has become widely regarded as the most important rugby event in the foreign community calender in Japan.

Previous GM Cup winners and scores

Date / Winning team / Score

March 2001 Tokyo Crusaders 6-5
January 2002 YCAC 10-5
December 2002 YCAC 45-14
December 2003 Tokyo Crusaders 35-10
November 2004 YCAC 18-14
November 2005 Tokyo Crusaders 31-5
November 2006 YCAC 22-19

External links

Monday, January 1, 2007

Behind the Curtain - January 2007

At last the curtain is about to rise for the New Year 2007! It has been a cold winter so far but with several debut sekitori appearing in front of the curtain at Kokukigan in Tokyo this month, things ought to be heating up just fine, with most of the heat coming from foreign wrestlers, cause for the first time in ever that three foreign born wrestlers will be stepping out from behind the curtain for the first time in the same tourney. This means that there are now a record seventeen foreign sekitori, topping the old record of sixteen set in July.

Ms2e Hakuba of Michinoku Beya debuts at J11e this January. We last mentioned him back in March 2006, when there was a 7-man playoff for the Makushita championship. In November, Hakuba got his yusho with a 7-0 record. Hakuba is one of the three foreigners getting promoted to the paid ranks, he is from Mongolia. Oyakata Michinoku (former Ozeki Kirishima) finally has gotten his 2nd sekitori since taking over the stable.

Ms1e (4-3) Wakanoho of Magaki Beya debuts at J12e this tourney. He is the 3rd Russian to earn the right to wear the silk mawashi, after Roho and his brother Hakurozan.. Wakanoho is also the first member of the March 2005 sumo debut class to get promoted to sekitori. Another interesting point is his age, eighteen years, five months, and thirteen days, making him the 8th youngest promotion in the current era of sumo. Again, the last time Wakanoho appeared in this column was in March 2006, 7-man playoff for the Makushita yusho. It was poor Wakanoho that lost the final match, against the impressive Baruto. With some hard work and a little luck, Wakanoho ought to be facing Baruto on the dohyo this year, when he can exact a little revenge.

Ms3e (4-3) Koryu of Hanakago Beya debuts at J13w this basho. He is the 3rd and final foreigner stepping out from behind the curtain this tourney. He is the 2nd Mongolian getting to wear the silk mawashi this month. From the sumo debut class of November 2000, he is the first wrestler to get promoted to Juryo.

All together, Hakuba, Wakanoho and Koryu, make up the thirty-thrid, thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth sumotori promoted to the paid ranks since the end of the war. The thirty-second foreigner promoted was Ryuo from Mongolian back in July. This is also the 2nd time that two Mongolians have been promoted to Juryo at the same time, last time this happened was back in March 2004, when Tokitenku and Ama were promoted.

Ms3w (4-3) Toyohibiki of Sakaigawa Beya debuts at J14e this tournament. He also fought under his family name, Kadomoto. This is the 4th sekitori to be produced by Oyakata Sakaigawa and he appears to be on a roll, last tourney Goeido was promoted to the paid ranks. The last time someone produced back-to-back Juryo debuts in consecutive tourneys was when Kotooshu was promoted in May 2004 followed by his stablemate Kotoshogiko in July 2004. Toyohi will join his fellow sekitori and stablemates Iwakiyama, Hochiyama and Goeido. From the sumo debut batch of January 2005, Toyohi is the 3rd to step out from behind the curtain, following Tochiozan and Goeido.

Ms4w (5-2) Bushuyama of Mushigawa Beya returns to the paid ranks at J13e. It has been almost 2 years since he was able to wear the silk mawashi, having last appeared in the paid ranks back in January 2005. With his impressive record in November, we can expect him to stay in the paid ranks for some time to come.