Saturday, February 05, 2011

Sumo will never be the same - I hope.

After the 'retirement' of Asashoryu, I thought I had finished caring about sumo completely.  So I was surprised to find that I still have a reservoir of outrage and disappointment to be directed at this match-fixing scandal.  It produces so much ill-will.  The insult to the meritocracy of the sport, the debasement of past victories, the gut-wrenching feeling of betrayal.  It is the simplest of angers: why should you support someone if you know they're not even trying?

Today it was revealed that the incriminating test messages that have ruined the careers of 14 wrestlers were obtained from two mobile phones - mobile phones confiscated from two wrestlers back in July as part of an investigation into illegal gambling.  Police have announced that they will seek to obtain mobile phones from those fourteen for further investigation.  And If the proportion of seven further guilty names turning up from each phone stays true, these phones could potentially implicate around 100 more wrestlers. An extraordinary number.  If something like this actually happened, sumo as we know it would be over.

We can only hope.  In Japan, scandals are always the tip of the iceberg, and the Japanese response is to cut off the tip and ignore the unseen ice.  As for the tip itself, by the way, the traditional Japanese remedy is seppuku, ritual suicide. 

Those days are over.  Mostly.

It is worth noting that the baseball betting scandal only started because one rikishi, having got lucky with a number of baseball games, had the temerity to ask the yakuza for his money, because he'd made the bets through them.  Funnily enough the gangsters weren't keen to pay up, instead hitting the wrestler for more dough instead.  His response was to go to the police for help.  So it's safe to assume that those two guys weren't the swiftest steeds in the stable, so to speak.  Maybe their behaviour with bout-rigging was similiarly extreme and idiotic, and little further information will be obtained from the other 14 phones.

Maybe.  Or maybe it's the tip of the iceberg.

In which case there is a chance for real reform from the Japan Sumo Assocation.  Well actually, real reform will come from outside the JSA, because the JSA has known about match-rigging forever, and if the truth really comes a new organization will have to emerge.

But a chance exists.  A chance to drag the sport, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth - first century.  Hell, most people would settle for the nineteenth.  An opportunity to reconcile the contradictions in the sport: A morally pure ascetism riven by money and drug scandals; professional athletes set up to be avatars of ancient culture and ritual; a money-making organization with tax-free status.  Why does sumo pretend to be something it isn't?  The sport itself has enough to offer.  The excitement of the bout, the clash of the behemoths, the attraction of the ever-chaning banzuke.  These things are enough.  Seriously, setting yourself up as some kind of ethically infallible, quasi-religious cultural asset is always going to cause strife.

My 3-month old son expresses his anger at sumo cheats


Crunchy Peanut-Blogger said...

What nonsense. Match rigging has proved to be no barrier to the success of professional wrestling in the United States. Indeed the 'sport' embraces match rigging, for without it the bouts would degenerate into, well, wrestling. You'd get none of the turnbuckle eating, chair throwing, cape wearing, acrobatics we associate with professional wrestling. Indeed, ultimately, your only other option is to put them in a cage and mix in some other martial arts. I hear that's quite popular too.

Captaincassowary said...

You're right matey. In fact, some past rikishi have said that match-fixing in sumo is so prevalent that it is basically like professional wrestling.'s not supposed to be.