Japan was mourning on Sunday after the death of former sumo grand champion Taiho, who won a record 32 tournaments and became a hugely popular figure in the 1960s when the sport was untainted by the damaging scandals seen more recently.
Taiho, whose real name was Koki Naya, died of heart failure in hospital in Tokyo on Saturday, the Japan Sumo Association said. He was 72.
His death was front-page news in Japan, with the Nikkan Sports daily calling him “the strongest yokozuna (sumo grand champion) in history”.
“He was sumo history,” former yokozuna Chiyonofuji, whose 31 championships are second on the all-time list, told Kyodo news agency. “That one additional title he won, that was something beyond my reach. It is a measure of his greatness.”
Japanese police for the first time ever Tuesday sought criminal prosecutions of nine sumo wrestlers and sports figures in a damaging scandal over illegal gambling and yakuza mob ties.The ancient and highly ritualistic national sport is already under the spotlight after news of illegal drug use, brutal training methods and in recent weeks claims of bout-rigging.Police handed files to prosecutors outlining claims that five active wrestlers, three patrons or financial supporters, and one member of a crime syndicate were involved in gambling on baseball games, the Sankei daily said.Betting in Japan is allowed only on horse racing and some motor sports.Prosecutors must now decide whether to indict and try the nine, who were not named by police or in Japanese media reports.It is the first time in the history of sumo — a sport which dates back some 1,500 years — that Japanese police handed over a case to prosecutors against serving sumo wrestlers, local media said.
The ancient sport of sumo wrestling was today bracing itself for a fresh assault on its reputation, after police said they had found evidence of match-fixing on several wrestlers’ mobile phones.
Japanese media reports said the text messages showed the wrestlers had gone as far as agreeing which winning moves would be used during bouts, and how the losing opponent should fall.
The messages were found on phones belonging to wrestlers in sumo’s second division, the Kyodo news agency said. The phones had been confiscated during an investigation into allegations of illegal gambling involving scores of wrestlers that surfaced last year.
They suggested that match-fixing was common in the 2,000-year-old sport, with hundreds of thousands of yen resting on the outcome of a single bout.
The Japan sumo association summoned one elder and nine wrestlers, including three from the top division, to an emergency meeting to discuss the allegations.
"We are examining the situation," the association’s chairman, Hanaregoma, said.
Reports suggested the police would not take action against the wrestlers, as match-fixing is not illegal and there was no evidence that anyone had bet on the predetermined bouts.
Hakuho captured his fifth consecutive title on Sunday, defeating rank-and-filer Toyonoshima in a playoff on the final day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament.
The Mongolian grand champion, who rebounded from the devastation of failing to tie yokozuna great Futabayama’s all-time wins streak of 69 bouts, was cooler than ice in his final match of the year after both wrestlers ended regulation with 14-1 records at Fukuoka Kokusai Center.
The victory was Hakuho’s career 17th, the yokozuna overcoming the psychological bump of losing to Kisenosato on the second day of the 15-day meet, which snapped his winning run at 63 bouts.
His career-best fifth straight title is third in the record books behind former yokozuna wrestlers Asashoryu and Taiho, who had seven and six, respectively.
Hakuho took the charge from Toyonoshima, a former sekiwake who is currently a No. 9 maegashira, and calmly shoved his opponent down from the rear after deftly maneuvering around him.
‘‘This year there was a lot that happened, so I really wanted to finish off strong,’’ said Hakuho, who is second on the all-time list for consecutive wins. ‘‘I am really tired. I wasn’t able to break Futabyama’s record but I believe I did repay some of my debt of gratitude,’’ he said.
Former Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu, who retired in February after assaulting a man outside a Tokyo nightclub, had his topknot removed in a ceremony at Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday.
Asashoryu, 30, performed his "unryu" style dohyo-iri ritual in the raised ring for the last time, flanked by Mongolian wrestlers Asasekiryu and ozeki Harumafuji, who served as the usher and sword-bearer, respectively.
Thousands of fans turned out to bid farewell to the 68th yokozuna, whose popularity still remains strong even after leaving the sport. About 380 people took snips from his oicho (ginko-leafed topknot) before his former stablemaster Takasago cut it off.
The Japan Sumo Association decided on Tuesday it will allow only one foreign-born wrestler per stable, meaning the one slot reserved for foreigners, which until now would become vacant when wrestlers took Japanese citizenship, cannot be filled. For example, if a Mongolian-born wrestler belonging to a stable were to gain Japanese citizenship, other foreign wrestlers would be prohibited from joining the same stable.