A Sumo scandal is making national headlines in Japan. Dozens of top wrestlers and stable masters have admitted to laying illegal bets with gangsters on baseball games. So widespread is the illicit practice that the sportís governing body is considering the unprecedented move of cancelling next monthís Grand Tournament.
MARK WILLACY: It has a cast of characters only Hollywood could rival, the Mafia bookie, the gambling sumo wrestler and the go-between hairdresser.
Throw in millions of yen in illegal bets and some blackmail and you have the latest scandal to drag sumo through the dirtÖ
When a Japanese magazine went to press alleging that high-profile wrestler Kotomitsuki had blown thousands of dollars punting on baseball and had paid tens of thousands more to gangsters to keep it quiet, few here realised just how deep this story would wound sumo.
Now others have been swept off their feet by these illegal betting revelations and itís the front page lead in every newspaper and the top story in every TV bulletin.
So far 65 sumo wrestlers, sumo stablemasters, and sumo elders have confessed to making illegal bets about half of them punting on baseball games and depositing their wagers with gangsters.
For wrestler Kotomitsuki, that cost him dearly, not only did lose a lot of bets, but his bookie began blackmailing him, threatening through his hair-dresser turned betting courier to expose the highly-ranked sumo if he didnít pay hush money.
After handing over nearly 40-thousand dollars to keep his betting quiet, Kotomitsuki baulked at a new demand that he hand over one-point-two million, so the gangsters went to the press.
Iím seriously reflecting on what Iíve done says the 154-kilogram grappler. Asked if he confessed to illegal betting, he replies yes
A tradition steeped in honour, dignity and the Samurai code, sumo is giving rugby league a run for its money when it comes to scandal.
In recent years, a wrestler has died after a brutal bashing from stable-mates, several others have been thrown out for smoking marijuana, there have been allegations of match-fixing, and the sportís top wrestler had to retire this year after breaking an acquaintanceís nose and threatening to kill him.
The betting scandal though threatens to de-rail the entire sport.
The preparations for next monthís Grand Tournament in Nagoya are going ahead, says Sumo association chairman Musashigawa but there is still a possibility it will be cancelled he warns.
That would be a major blow to sumo but it seems the public have had enough of this scandalised sport.
The grand tournament should be cancelled says this Nagoya resident. These scandals need to be investigated once and for all she says
Those wrestlers need to sort themselves out, says this man. The people of Nagoya will be disappointed, but the grand tournament should be cancelled he says.
That would be like pulling the plug on Wimbledon or the US MastersÖbut it seems many Japanese believe itís time for sumo to face a severe slap down.
As I've said before, only two former sumo rikishi have transitioned over to MMA and have not been too successfull. However, imagine if all these guys leave and decide to immigrate to MMA, there would be a huge influx in DREAM of superheavyweights and some potential might come out of it!