Two Russian sumo wrestlers tested positive for marijuana use in Japan less than a month after a fellow Russian wrestler was arrested for possession of pot, the country's association of sumo wrestlers said today.
It's the first drug scandal in the roughly 2,000 year history of sumo wrestling and the latest in a rising number of marijuana incidents in Japan, a country with harsh penalties for drug offenders.
Nihon Sumo Kyokai, the Japanese sumo wrestlers association, announced today that urine samples of Russian brothers Soslan "Roho" Feliksovich Baradzov and Batraz "Hakurozan" Feliksovich Baradzov showed the presence of marijuana. The news came amid a police investigation of another Russian wrestler, Soslan "Wakanoho" Aleksandrovich Gagloev, who was arrested for illegal use and possession of cannabis last month.
"They should be thoroughly tested if the initial urine test turned out to be positive," said Toshimitsu Kitanoumi, the chairman of the sumo association, following the unprecedented screening of 69 high-ranking wrestlers, including two Mongolian grand champions -- Asashoryu and Hakuho. The two Russians were the only positive results.
The 26-year-old Hakurozan -- the sumo name the Russian uses professionally -- is from Kitanoumi's stable of wrestlers, putting the chairman in an uncomfortable position in his role as head of the sumo association.
"Hakurozan told me he wants a thorough investigation to wipe out every possible allegation against him," Kitanoumi told Japanese reporters. "If they are suspected, they should be examined further."
After the urine test, both Hakurozan and his 28-year-old brother, Roho, agreed voluntarily to be interviewed by the National Police Agency. The police investigation is under way. No charges have been filed against them.
On Aug. 18, Japanese police arrested 20-year-old Russian wrestler, Wakanoho, for illegal possession of cannabis. The association fired Wakanoho three days after his arrest and banned the wrestler from the world of sumo for life. Wakanoho's supervisor, 55-year-old Katsuharu Magaki of Magaki Stable, took a pay cut of nearly 30 percent.
According to police, Wakanoho said he obtained a cigarette containing marijuana from a foreigner he met at a disco in Roppongi in central Tokyo. Police also seized a couple of pipes and other items that may contain marijuana from the wrestler's apartment and his room at a sumo stable in Tokyo. That led both police and the association to investigate whether there is habitual use of marijuana among wrestlers at sumo stables.
"Marijuana and other drugs are not as foreign to ordinary people as they used to be, even in Japan," said Tsuneo Kondo, the director of Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Center in Tokyo. "Many of us once thought only outlaws would use drugs but that reality is long gone -- we see users coming from different corners of life. They can be college students or house wives."
Marijuana-related arrests have been on the rise in Japan in recent years, according to a report compiled by the National Police Agency. Between January and June 2008, police made 1,686 arrests involving marijuana -- the highest in history and an increase of 9.1 percent. from the same period in the previous year.