Japanese police sources are saying that there is evidence sumo wrestlers contacted each other via cell-phone to fix sumo matches in advance. AFP has an excellent piece on the recent developments. AP also has a substantial follow-up piece posted as well. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Organized Crime Control Division has been aware of contacts, collusion, corruption and betting between members of the Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group and sumo wrestlers since 2008, but only really began investigating the links in September of 2009. The actual investigation is grinding to a halt with the arrest of a few key figures. At present, it seem unlikely that the police will press charges against any sumo members for throwing matches or fixing the outcomes of various bouts. It is unclear why the wrestlers threw matches or who gave them the orders to do so.
In a way, it’s kind of vindicating to see the investigation turn out as I expected it would and a little disappointing. In this interview with AP in July of 2010, I expounded as succinctly as possible on the problems with yakuza and the sumo world.
“Sumo is involved in organized crime because they’ve had a symbiotic relationship for years,” said Jake Adelstein, a former crime beat reporter for a Japanese newspaper and author of the best-selling book “Tokyo Vice.” “The wrestlers and the yakuza have a macho admiration for each other. The yakuza by being seen with the sumo wrestlers, acquire ‘status’ and the sumo wrestlers get money, booze, food, and women.”
Adelstein said smaller training stables don’t have big corporate sponsors and need the money the yakuza offer. “The average salary of a sumo wrestler is a pittance and they need the cash,” he said, adding that once a wrestler is beholden to the mob he is vulnerable to demands to throw bouts — which the gangsters bet on — to clear his debt.”
In the best of worlds, the sumo baseball betting scandal would be pursued until it was proven that yakuza had also been involved in match-rigging as well. Perhaps the latest judicious leak from the police is an attempt to garner public outcry so that they can pursue the investigation even farther. However, if I was going to bet on the outcome, which I would never do, since gambling is a crime in Japan–I’d bet that the investigation ends with a few arrests and a post-humous prosecution of the yakuza boss who was believed to have organized a great deal of the betting.
I wouldn’t mind losing the hypothetical bet, though.
UPDATE: The current head of the Japan Sumo Association(JSA) has apologized for the scandal and announced that they will conduct a serious investigation into recent allegations. With a former lawyer for an organized crime front company still working with the JSA, we can probably be pretty sure that the investigation will uncover nothing more than a convenient scapegoat.