(TOKYO) -- A new match-fixing scandal is threatening to turn Japan's national sport -- sumo wrestling -- upside down, and Thursday, three wrestlers admitted to the allegations.
The revelations first surfaced Wednesday when police said they found text messages from wrestlers' cell phones detailing how to win and lose matches. They included demands of payments of up to $6,000. The phones were confiscated as part of a larger investigation into reports wrestlers bet on baseball games. Now, 14 athletes and their elders stand accused of betraying fans.
Sumo Association Chair Hanerogama apologized Thursday, saying a full investigation was underway. That apology came after the Minister in charge of sumo revealed three wrestlers had confessed to the allegations, a first in the sport's modern history.
Match-fixing isn't illegal in Japan, but any appearance of staging threatens to tarnish a sport already rocked by scandal. Last summer, Japan's national broadcaster NHK pulled the tournament off air, after wrestlers admitted to gambling on baseball games with members of organized crime. That came months after the sport's grand champion retired following reports he assaulted a man outside a Tokyo nightclub. Rampant marijuana use has also forced wrestlers out of the sport, and four years ago, sumo came under attack, following news a young trainee had died as a result of hazing.
The Sumo Association has launched a third party investigation and the board is questioning the wrestlers involved. But it may be too little too late. NHK has already cancelled an annual charity sumo event and Fuji TV network announced they would cancel a larger Japan sumo tournament.
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