TOKYO // Sumo held its first full tournament in six months yesterday following a hugely damaging bout-fixing scandal that infuriated the public and forced the resignations of 22 wrestlers and one stable master.
The 15-day showpiece comes after the Japan Sumo Association had to cancel a tournament in March following revelations that some wrestlers exchanged mobile text messages to fix bouts in the ancient national sport.
The biggest scandal to face the sport saw a May tournament become a "forum to evaluate the skills" of wrestlers, and invited fans to watch for free.
"We apologise for the troubles and worries we have caused," Hanaregoma, the chairman of the association, said in an address to hundreds of fans at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in Nagoya.
"During this tournament, wrestlers will give all their strength and skills to stage exciting sumo.
"I am sure this will meet your expectations."
Sumo has long been under suspicion over allegations that bouts were rigged, but no active wrestler had acknowledged guilt until earlier this year when a number of incriminating text messages surfaced as police investigated another scandal involving some wrestlers placing illegal bets on baseball games.
It was the latest blow to the tradition-bound sport which has been shaken by a series of recent scandals, including illegal drug use and brutal training methods that resulted in the death of a teenage apprentice.
Some wrestlers and stable masters also reportedly have ties with organised crime groups.
Shuhei Mainoumi, a retired wrestler turned sports commentator, tried to rally a sceptical public, telling the national television network, NHK: "We must not end this tradition of 1,000 years - 1,400 years. We must continue and pass on this tradition of grand sumo, of which Japan is so proud."
Hakuho, the Mongolian grand champion, is again the strong favourite in Nagoya.