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."

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