Asia-Pacific

Sumo grand champion apologises over scandal‎

Mongolian-born sumo grand champion, Hakuho bows at the beginning of a press conference at his stable in Tokyo
Image caption Hakuho denied any involvement in the scandal

Sumo grand champion Hakuho has apologised for a match-rigging scandal that has rocked the Japanese sport.

"I represent all the sumo wrestlers and apologise from the bottom of my heart to the Japanese people and all those who love sumo," he told reporters.

He denied any involvement, and said the cancellation of next month's grand tournament had deeply hurt him.

It is the first such cancellation since 1946 - when Tokyo's main stadium was being renovated.

At least 13 senior wrestlers had been implicated and three have admitted rigging fights.

The sport has been dogged by match-fixing claims for decades, but until now such claims have always been firmly denied.

Asked if he had ever seen or heard of match-fixing, the Mongolian grand champion said: "Obviously, the only thing I can say is no, isn't it."

"The only thing I can do now is to work hard so that I can show you good sumo fights again," said 25-year-old Hakuho, who goes by one name.

Incriminating messages

A special investigation panel widened its inquiry on Tuesday to take in wrestlers in sumo's top two divisions.

The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) has cancelled the grand tournament over the scandal. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called it a betrayal of the people.

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

The scandal came to light last week, after incriminating text messages obtained by police were leaked to the press.

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 $1,227 or £757).

Police had confiscated the mobile phones last year during an investigation into illegal gambling on baseball games by wrestlers using gangster middlemen.

Live television coverage of the sport was dropped by national broadcaster NHK at that time.

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