Japan's sumo hit by match-fixing claims‎

File photo of Sumo wrestlers For many Japanese, sumo is a much-loved part of their national culture

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Japan's sumo bosses are investigating a match-fixing scandal in which 13 senior wrestlers have been implicated.

It follows another scandal over illegal gambling last year which saw live television coverage of the sport dropped by national broadcaster NHK.

Sumo has its origins in religious rites and wrestlers are expected to observe a strict code of behaviour.

It has been dogged by match-fixing claims for decades, but they have always been firmly denied.

Phone messages

Bowing in apology, the chairman of the Japan Sumo Association, Hanaregoma, confirmed that allegations of match-fixing had been made.

He said text messages found on mobile phones suggested that 13 senior wrestlers were implicated.

One reportedly went into detail of how he would attack and the other would fall, in exchange for hundreds of thousands of yen (100,000 yen equals $1227 or £757).

The messages came to light after police confiscated phones last year during an investigation into illegal gambling on baseball games by wrestlers using gangster middlemen.

That scandal prompted sponsors to abandon sumo, and the national broadcaster NHK to drop live television coverage of a tournament.

Japan's police are not expected to pursue a criminal case over the latest allegations because rigging wrestling bouts is not against the law.

But Hanaregoma - who goes by one name - said sumo's governing body had appointed outsiders to carry out a disciplinary enquiry, and if the claims were proven the wrestlers would be severely punished.

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