Sumo spring tournament cancelled in corruption crisis

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Japan's sumo authority has cancelled its spring tournament over a match-fixing scandal, in the first such cancellation in over half a century as the ancient and tainted sport reaches a new low.

The board of the Japan Sumo Association held an emergency session Sunday and decided to scrap the March tournament, major media said, as it tries to investigate the extent of the corruption after confessions from three fighters.

Sumo officials could not be reached immediately for confirmation, but public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) said they will meet the press later in the day to explain the decision, reported by media including Jiji Press and Kyodo News.

It is the first tournament cancellation since 1946, when the ritualistic sport's summer event was called off because of delays to the renovation of a sumo facility that was damaged during the World War II, Jiji Press said.

Local news media flashed news headlines about the decision shortly after noon (0300 GMT), as an army of journalists staked out Tokyo's main sumo arena.

In the latest scandal, at least three active sumo fighters have for the first time admitted fixing bouts, with 11 more wrestlers under suspicion.

Japan's education minister, who supervises the national sport, on Thursday condemned the fixing as an "act of betrayal".

Match-rigging claims have long stalked sumo, which has its roots in Japan's native Shinto religion and dates back some 1,500 years -- but this is the first time wrestlers still in the sumo world have confessed.

The sumo authority had previously taken legal action against journalists and others who reported cases of bout fixing.

The scandal came to light last week after a newspaper revealed a police investigation into an illegal gambling scheme on baseball games, run by gangsters with bets placed by sumo wrestlers.

For that investigation, police confiscated mobile phones from sumo fighters and discovered messages detailing arrangements for bout-fixing, which is not a crime but prompted fury among fans of the sport.

The sport's cherished image for probity has collapsed following revelations of drug use, extortion linked to underworld gangs and the 2007 death of a trainee who died after being bullied and subjected to violent initiation rites.

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