Japan from the inside out

More on the sumo scandal

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 4, 2011

DEMONSTRATING once again that there’s a first time for everything, Japan’s DPJ-led government is responding both promptly and appropriately to the revelations of match-fixing in sumo. While match-fixing in that sport is not illegal (as it is in others), the Sumo Association is registered as a public service corporation. A new legal framework regulating those corporations was created a few years ago, and a five-year transition to the new system began on 1 December 2008. Certification as a public service corporation means an entity’s income-generating activities are tax-exempt. The Sumo Association is still registered under the old system and wants to be certified under the new system.

According to members of the government, they’ll have to clean the Augean stables first. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

“I can only say that certification as a public service corporation will be difficult if the corporation has a chronic problem with match-fixing…First, we will have them clarify all the facts and present them to the public.”

The word “difficult” is often used by Japanese government officials at all levels as a euphemism for “impossible”. The phrase Mr. Edano used for “present them to the public” was literally “squeeze out the pus.”

Education Minister Takaki Yoshiaki (the Ministry is also responsible for regulating sports activities) met with the Chief Cabinet Secretary yesterday. After the meeting, he told reporters that certification would hinge on whether the Sumo Association was capable of full disclosure, and hinted that their status might be revoked.

Ren Ho, the Minister for Government Revitalization who also plays the role of MC at the policy reviews, took the opportunity to indulge in some grandstanding. She said she thinks the association does not now fulfill the conditions of certification, and added that their governance has been called into question due to incidents involving violence (i.e., former Mongolian rikishi Asashoryu’s brawling in the back seat of a taxicab) and the gambling on baseball. Yes, she’s right, and yes, politicians everywhere pile on to glom some cheap publicity and face time with the cameras.

The issue is very clear, however: If an organization thinks its cultural value entitles it to such privileges as tax-exempt status, they’ll have to behave as if they deserve it. Even the DPJ’s got that one covered.

UPDATE: Now the police are saying that the e-mails of one of the arrested rikishi are creating suspicions that he also bet on sumo matches, but add that the matches on which wagers were placed were not those whose outcome was arranged in advance.

UPDATE #2: I spoke too soon. The Education Minister is trying to downplay the idea of decertification, preferring to wait for a report, and he also specifically downplayed Ren Ho’s comments.

That highlights two problems. First, I read articles in two different newspapers this morning about Ren Ho’s statements, and neither one mentioned that she has responsibility for the reform of public service corporations. That’s why I wrote that she seemed to be grandstanding. It is example #15,492 for me of how information in the Japanese news media is often scattered, incomplete, and decentralized. It is “difficult”, as Mr. Edano would say, to find a single report from any news outlet on any subject with all the pertinent information.

Second, once again a DPJ Cabinet can’t get its story straight before addressing the public. The minister responsible for regulating sporting bodies says one thing while the minister responsible for public service corporations is in another room saying something else. Loose cannons, no coordination. That’s the responsibility of either the prime minister or the chief cabinet secretary (and ultimately both), but the integrated conduct of affairs seems beyond their capabilities.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister (!) Kitazawa Toshimi just had to chime in with his opinion too. He said:

“It’s no laughing matter when the yokuzuna (top-ranked wrestlers) and other upper level rikishi are foreigners and the lower level Japanese rikishi are fixing matches.”

That man’s just begging for a pie in the face.

Some people try to make excuses for all of this by attributing it to inexperience in government. Nope. It’s inexperience in life of the type which most people should have by the age of 40.

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One Response to “More on the sumo scandal”

  1. level3 said

    It may or may not be legal or moral or sportsmanlike, but it’s amusing that the likelihood that they weren’t betting on the pre-arranged matches as a sign that nothing overtly shady is going on…is well…silly.

    Who in their right mind with any knowledge of the way things work in sumo would take such a bet? Who would bet against the guy with the 7-7 record on the last day of the basho?
    Or are some of these matches being rigged counter to the Freakonomics theory? Though such cases, if any, would surely be all about money rather than tradition, there is no honor in telling a 7-7 that you’ll let him win to gain rank, and then plow him out of the ring using the element of surprise so you can win a bet.

    Ed – “You sure know your boxing.”
    Frank Dreben – “All I know is never bet on the white guy.”

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