Japan's National Sport of Sumo Rocked by Yet Another Scandal

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Japan's national sport of sumo wrestling faces new allegations of bout-fixing, less than a year after a betting scandal rocked the Japan Sumo Association.

The latest investigation involves 13 wrestlers and stable masters accused of sending text messages to plan out matches.

In a press conference broadcast live on Japanese television today, Sumo Association chairman Hanaregoma apologized to fans and bowed before cameras.

"We cannot find the words to say sorry to our fans," Hanaregoma said. "I believe these are new allegations, not reports of something that's happened in the past."

The text messages detailing bout-fixing were found on cell phones police confiscated while investigating a sumo gambling ring, the sumo chair said.

National broadcaster NHK reported those messages laid out plans about which wrestler would attack and how the other would fall.

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The texts also included the amount of payment involved. Hanaregoma acknowledged the authenticity of the e-mails in question, saying the association board had spoken with all but one of the accused.

But he said it was too early to draw any conclusions. The sumo association has launched an investigation, eager to quell concerns.

"There will be severe punishment for wrestlers [involved]," he said. "We don't take this lightly. We see it as a betrayal to fans."

Bout-fixing is the latest in a long list of scandals that have tainted the reputation of Japan's national pastime.

Last week, reports surfaced that three sumo wrestlers were involved in drunken incidents, including a late-night brawl.

Last summer, high-ranking wrestlers were accused of gambling on baseball games.

Several wrestlers were arrested, and sumo's close ties to organized crime exposed, in the investigation.

The scandal forced Japan's national broadcaster NHK to pull live coverage of the Nagoya tournament for the first time in 57 years.

The widespread problems came after the sport's grand champion, Mongolian wrestler Asashoryu, was forced to retire after assaulting a man outside a Tokyo night club.

In 2009, reports of rampant marijuana use led to the expulsion of three Russian wrestlers.

This is not the first time the sport has been accused of match-fixing, but past allegations have never been substantiated.

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