Japan's scandal-hit national sport of sumo has vowed to weed out any links to yakuza organized crime groups as its governing body readies for the autumn tournament being staged in less than two weeks.
The ancient sport's ties with the mob and revelations of widespread illegal gambling have plunged sumo into deep crisis
Photo: AFP "> The ancient sport's ties with the mob and revelations of widespread illegal gambling have plunged sumo into deep crisis Photo: AFP
The ancient sport's ties with the mob and revelations of widespread illegal gambling have plunged sumo into deep crisis, leading sponsors to pull out and the public broadcaster NHK to boycott a national tournament in July.
Battered by a string of negative news, including underworld bosses taking ringside seats at previous tournaments, sumo's governing body has vowed to clean up its act in a "Declaration of the Rejection of Violent Groups".
"We in the sumo world will be aware of our social responsibility, and we declare that we will exclude all antisocial forces such as the yakuza," Japan Sumo Association chairman Hanaregoma promised Monday.
"We will not allow gangsters at any sumo-related events -- from tournaments, to training tours, to promotional functions, to the stables (training centers)," said Hanaregoma, an ex-wrestler who uses a single name.
"We will not allow them to be involved in any business dealings with sumo."
New surveillance cameras have been set up at the Tokyo venue to ensure that no gang bosses show up at the tournament starting September 12, as top figures of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime group have done in the past.
When the mobsters were given expensive ringside seats last year, it allowed them to send a signal to their jailed colleagues and bosses because the bouts were televised nationwide, including to prisons, by NHK.
Japan's yakuza have long operated relatively openly from large corporate-style headquarters, and police have tolerated their existence as long as they have not targeted citizens in their turf wars.
Sumo's governing body has also admitted in recent months that at least 27 wrestlers and sumo functionaries had admitted to illegally gambling on baseball games in bets organized by mob-linked bookmakers.
Three gangsters and a former wrestler were arrested on suspicion they extorted six million yen (69,000 dollars) from a broker of illegal gambling.
Angered by the string of scandals, NHK decided not to broadcast the Grand Sumo Tournament live in July -- the first time it took such a step in 57 years, depriving the sport of around five million dollars in revenue.
Big-name sponsors also withdrew funding, including Fuji Xerox, Japan's biggest maker of color printers, and foodmaker Nagatanien.
The sumo association barred several wrestlers from the event and declined usual awards including the coveted Emperor's Cup.
After Hanaregoma's show of contrition this week, NHK is leaning toward airing the tournament, the Sports Hochi newspaper said, citing unnamed sources.
Hanaregoma visited NHK chairman Shigeo Fukuchi on Monday to explain the anti-yakuza declaration. Fukuchi will hold a press conference on Thursday, when he might touch on the broadcaster's decision.
Education and Sports Minister Tatsuo Kawabata met Hanaregoma last week and said "the time is getting ripe" for the resumption of normal tournaments.