Friday, March 9, 2007

Sumo association rattles sabre at weekly

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Starting from today, The Daily Yomiuri will periodically carry translations taken from monthly magazine Ozumo, which is published by The Yomiuri Shimbun.


Allegations of yaocho, or match-fixing, have been a blight on sumo for years. However, the can of worms opened by the Shukan Gendai magazine in a series of articles earlier this year that claimed yokozuna Asashoryu and other senior wrestlers were rigging bouts so infuriated the Japan Sumo Association it decided to file a civil suit against the publisher, its managing editor and the writer of the articles, seeking damages and a full apology.

Splashed across one page was a headline alleging Asashoryu was involved in fixing matches, and that only four of his 15 bouts in the 2006 Kyushu Tournament--which he won with a perfect record--were not decided beforehand.

The article, by freelance writer Yorimasa Takeda, claimed the yokozuna was buying bouts for 800,000 yen a pop, with makushita wrestler Kyokutenzan acting as his go-between.

For pro sumo, the timing of the articles could not have been worse. The magazine hit the stands the day after the end of the New Year Tournament, which Asashoryu had won for his fourth straight Emperor's Cup and 20th overall. Sumo's revival, which strong attendances at the tournament suggested was burgeoning, was now threatened.

Faced with this threat to sumo's reputation and its hopes for renewed popularity, the association acted fast.

By Feb. 2, Asashoryu's stablemaster Takasago oyakata and 16 rikishi, including the yokozuna, had been questioned by Tomozuna oyakata, head of a committee in charge of investigating alleged irregularities that include wrestlers not fighting "wholeheartedly."

Also involved in the hearings were Isegahama oyakata, deputy head of the committee, and Keiji Isaji, an association lawyer.

All the wrestlers accused by Shukan Gendan vociferously denied match-fixing. The suit, which could expand to include Estonian maegashira Baruto after he was implicated in a later article, is expected to demand damages of several hundred million yen, with sources saying an out-of-court settlement is "out of the question."

Takeda's credentials have raised a few eyebrows. Born in 1958, he first worked as a reporter for an aviation journal before going freelance. His claims to have been covering sumo since 1988 have been challenged by beat reporters, who say they have never seen Takeda in dressing rooms during tournaments.

The timing of the allegations could be linked to Shukan Gendai's faltering sales. According to the Japan Audit Bureau of Circulations, sales of the magazine fell by almost 30 percent in the four years through 2006 to about 440,000 copies per issue.

Faced with an evaporating readership, the magazine had a major revamp at the end of last year. However, the Jan. 6 and 13 joint issue of the remodeled magazine immediately left egg on the face of publisher Kodansha Ltd. when a story claiming one of the returned abductees from North Korea had also tried to abduct another person from Japan was described by the abductee in question as "ludicrous."

The magazine may also have overreached with its match-fixing allegations. The first article concerning match-fixing did not say "match-fixing was suspected," it said there "is no doubt" the fix was in for 11 of Asashoryu's 15 bouts at the Kyushu tournament.

The assertiveness of the wording is unusual, and is not supported by the evidence given. Although Takeda quotes 10 media sources in the four articles, these sports newspaper reporters, TV reporters and newspaper reporters speak of only hearsay and rumors that have been floating around for years.

More damning are allegations made by "active rikishi X," who claims, among other things, that Asashoryu "had no qualms about buying wins" and "that only four of the yokozuna's 15 bouts in Kyushu were not rigged."

The claims, if true, would be explosive. Yet despite the assertions made by rikishi X, no reliable evidence or documents to back up his accusations are provided.

This combination of hearsay and rumor puts the association and the wrestlers in an almost impossible position. Proving that something does not exist is much more difficult than proving something does.

To dispel the seeds of suspicion that have been planted in fans' minds, the wrestlers will have to leave blood, sweat and tears every time they step on the dohyo.


Baruto out of Spring basho

The Daily Yomiuri

Estonian No. 13 maegashira Baruto on Thursday pulled out of the upcoming S pring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka. The 22-year-old is still not fully recovered from the left knee injury he s uffered in his bout against new sekiwake Kotoshogiku at January's New Year b asho. "It's impossible for him," Onoe oyakata said of his marquee wrestler, who was b oth philosophical and defiant in the face of certain demotion to juryo. "It can't be helped," Baruto said, "but I will be back for next tournament, andI

will do my best there."
(Mar. 9, 2007)