Japan’s sumo wrestlers caught gambling should be punished individually rather than as a group, former champion Konishiki said, citing the example of Major League Baseball’s Pete Rose.
Sumo’s governing authority yesterday banned a wrestler and coach for life after they admitted to betting on professional baseball games. The centuries-old sport is struggling to contain the gambling scandal, with alleged connections to organized crime, that’s resulted in Fuji Xerox Co. and at least four other companies pulling their sponsorship of this month’s tournament.
“Pete was expelled from the Major League for gambling, but the MLB was not blamed for Pete,” Konishiki, a Hawaiian-born wrestler who retired in 1997, said in an interview yesterday in Tokyo. “What happens past 6 o’clock is each wrestler’s privacy, and needs to be separated from what happens within sumo.”
A three-month investigation in 1989 found that Rose bet on baseball games during his time as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, leading to him being barred from baseball and disqualified from selection to the sport’s Hall of Fame.
More than 65 members of the sumo association have admitted to illegal gambling on baseball, mahjong and card games, Japanese media reported last month.
Konishiki, 46, who was the all-time heaviest sumo competitor at more than 600 pounds (272 kilograms) and reached the second-highest rank of ozeki, said wrestlers should be punished as individuals.
“Regardless of whether they were sumo wrestlers or not, what they did was illegal and they need to be held responsible for that,” he said.
Sumo, which weaves aspects of Shintoism into matches including a purification ritual that involves throwing salt before bouts, is seeking to protect 8.5 billion yen ($97 million) in annual tournament revenue and repair a reputation already tarnished in recent years by allegations of assault, trainee abuse and drug use.
The Japan Sumo Association yesterday decided to remove wrestler Kotomitsuki and stablemaster Otake after an emergency board meeting. Other wrestlers that admitted to gambling have been suspended from competing in the next tournament.
Tokyo-based NHK, which has broadcast the six annual sumo tournaments since 1953, has said it may cancel coverage of the 15-day competition to begin July 11 unless the association takes “sufficient” measures to address the gambling scandal.
“There’s people out there who truly look forward to watching the games so I want them to continue broadcasting them,” Konishiki said. “There are many people whose income depends on the tournament, and I’m glad the wrestlers who weren’t involved in the scandal are able to wrestle.”
Wrestlers, who are known by a single name, are organized in stables managed by former wrestlers.