As more members of the sumo world were discovered Friday to have gambled on professional baseball games, officials in charge of the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament have voiced concerns that fans may shun the sport.
One of those implicated Friday was stablemaster Tokitsukaze, 36, who took over the stable in October 2007 when his predecessor was fired by the Japan Sumo Association over the death of 17-year-old wrestler Takashi Saito. Saito died after being assaulted by fellow wrestlers.
Saito's 53-year-old father, Masato, said Takashi told his mother that he had seen other wrestlers in the stable gambling.
About a month or two before his death, Takashi reportedly told his mother during a telephone conversation, "I saw several people in a stable room gambling with bundles of notes worth 2 million yen to 3 million yen."
Takashi reportedly said he did not know what kind of gambling was going on, but his father criticized the ongoing scandal, saying, "Nothing in the sumo world has changed."
Besides Tokitsukaze, others found to have participated in gambling were Goeido, a 24-year-old wrestler widely expected to rise in the banzuke rankings, and Toyohibiki, 25. Both wrestlers belong to the Sakaigawa stable.
"I'm terribly sorry," was all Sakaigawa told reporters at his stable in Adachi Ward, Tokyo, on Friday morning.
The stable's morning training is usually open to the press, but it was closed Friday. Sakaigawa said the two wrestlers practiced as usual.
People entering and leaving the Tokitsukaze stable in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, on Friday morning, refused to answer reporters' questions. Young wrestlers in yukata had grim expressions on their faces.
Stablemaster Tokitsukaze did not make an appearance.
"We haven't heard anything from the association," said an official at a sumo information center in Nagoya, which handles ticket sales for the Nagoya tournament, scheduled to start July 11. "We've already distributed 70 percent to 80 percent of the tickets to repeat spectators. It's a matter of life and death if the tournament is canceled."
The sumo world was only recently criticized over last year's Nagoya tournament, in which gangsters sat in special seats for guests of the association.
Another official at the information center said, "I don't want to work hard after seeing so many problems one after another. I'm afraid fans may turn their backs on sumo."
A 44-year-old chief practitioner at an orthopedic clinic in Nakagawa Ward, Nagoya, where sumo wrestlers have been treated during past tournaments, said, "It's necessary to thoroughly unveil the truth of the gambling problem and present a solution. If the tournament can't be held, it should be accepted for the future of the sumo world."