Japan: Sumo world in turmoil after wrestlers test positive for marijuana

By Benga · Sep 3, 2008 · ·
  1. Benga
    From "The Guardian"
    Wednesday September 03 2008

    Justin McCurry

    The head of Japan's embattled national sport of sumo faced calls to resign today after two wrestlers, including one of his proteges, tested positive for marijuana.
    The Japan sumo association said urine tests conducted at several stables yesterday revealed marijuana use by the Russian siblings Roho and Hakurozan.
    The revelation of drug use among sportsmen known for their Spartan training methods and supposedly disciplined lifestyle is a huge embarrassment for the sumo authorities.
    It comes a fortnight after another Russian, Wakanoho, became the first sumo wrestler to be expelled in the sport's 2,000-year-history. Police found a marijuana cigarette in his wallet, which had been handed in after he dropped it on the street.
    Wakanoho, 20, was arrested after admitting he had bought a small quantity of the drug in Roppongi, a notorious entertainment district in Tokyo. A pipe used for smoking cannabis was found in his apartment.
    Today's revelations managed to knock the political fallout from prime minister Yasuo Fukuda's sudden resignation off the top of the TV news agenda.
    The sumo association said it had carried out surprise tests on all 69 wrestlers in sumo's top two divisions. Only Roho, 28, whose real name the association gave as Boradzov Soslan Feliksovich, and Hakurozan, 26, tested positive, officials said.
    "It is possible that they inhaled very recently, probably within the last two days," said Shohei Onishi, a sumo anti-doping official.
    Hakurozan, whose real name is Baradzov Batraz Feliksovich, is coached by Kitanoumi, a retired grand champion who now heads the sumo association.
    Both wrestlers denied smoking marijuana. "I have never used or even touched the stuff," Roho told reporters. "I want another test to be conducted at a hospital I can trust."
    His younger brother said he was confident that further tests would clear his name. "I don't mind of they investigate me or test me," Hakurozan said. "I'm confident that I definitely won't test positive."
    Although possession of marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison, Japanese law carries no penalty for simply smoking it.
    Sumo authorities are under mounting pressure to show zero tolerance towards drug use as it battles to salvage its already tarnished reputation.
    The ancient sport was rocked earlier this year by the arrest of Junichi Yamamoto, a stable master, on assault charges following accusations that he had ordered the beating by three of his wrestlers of a 17-year-old trainee in June last year. The victim collapsed and died the following day.
    Sumo elders have also had to fend off accusations of match fixing and have been ordered to clamp down on the widespread physical abuse of younger wrestlers.
    Last year the association banned Asashoryu, one of two reigning "yokozuna" - grand champions - for two tournaments after he was filmed playing in a charity football match in his native Mongolia, despite pulling out of a goodwill sumo claiming to be injured.
    Even so, sumo authorities will find it hard to resist charges that it singles out foreign wrestlers for harsh punishments for what many consider minor misdemeanours.
    While Asashoryu was forced to sit on the sidelines for three months, Toki, a Japanese wrestler who struck and killed a pedestrian while driving in Osaka in 2000, was banned for just one tournament.
    Police said they would examine further test samples from Roho and Hakurozan. The results are expected within the next few days. A second positive result would make it almost impossible for Kitanoumi to stay in his post.
    Mitsuru Yaku, a fellow sumo association member, told a TV interviewer that it was "natural" that Kitanoumi would be sacked, adding that he believed more damaging revelations were on the way. "I don't think for a moment that all of the puss has come out," he said.
    Kitanoumi, 55, still holds the record as the youngest wrestler to attain the vaunted yokozuna status, at the age of 21 years and two months.

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  1. Nature Boy
    Seems like a crazy reaction for just a bit of weed. I didn't know their doping standards were so rigorous. It surprises me why it's so wrong for sports athletes to dabble in a bit of pot, which is not performance-enhancing; when actors, musicians and other public figures admit to it all the time. I guess it's because of sports' strong link to politics and conservative-style values though I don't know much about sumo TBH.
  2. Benga
    well sumo has very strong ties with the shinto religion, rituals are inbedded within, such as the purification with salt and many others. "Purity" of sumo wrestlers is to this day of mass exposure and opening up of sumo to non-japanese, still something taken seriously
    shinto is a religion where alcohol is sacred, to the point that every shrine will have kegs of sake outside, which is used in rituals ( such as weddings, which is celebrated by drinking a common cup of sake), offerings, and such wooden kegs are split open for every major occasion, openings and the like.

    i think the reaction is a mixture of japan's strict drug laws and this national-religious aspect of sumo. oh, the two caught were non-japanese as well.

    sumo scandals are quite something, last year the grand champion, who is mongolian, was on a break back home in Ulan-Bator, for depression and love-life issues. Well somebody caught him playing soccer with his friends. big scandal, however odd this might seem

  3. Benga
    a little follow up on the scandal :

    The Guardian

    Monday September 08 2008
    Justin McCurry

    Japan: Sumo chief resigns over drugs scandal

    Sumo wrestling's most senior official resigned today, the same day two wrestlers were given lifetime bans after testing positive for marijuana.
    Kitanoumi, chairman of the Japan sumo association and mentor of one of the disgraced wrestlers, denied he had been forced out by other officials desperate to avoid further damage to the ancient sport's reputation.
    "It was my decision to resign," he said.
    Last week the sumo association conducted surprise drug tests on all 69 wrestlers in the top two divisions following the arrest in August of Wakanoho, a Russian fighter, for alleged possession of marijuana.
    He was immediately expelled, becoming the first sumo wrestler to be banned for drug use in the sport's 2,000-year history.
    His compatriots, Roho, 28, and Hakurozan, 26, both tested positive, and were banned for life after follow-up tests conducted by Mitsubishi Chemical Medience, the only Japanese laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, produced similar results.
    The sibling fighters continued to deny the allegations over the weekend and demanded yet more examinations. But a Japanese anti-doping expert said today that the results indicated the pair had smoked the drug rather than inhaled it second-hand.
    Kitanoumi, who holds the record for becoming sumo's youngest-ever grand champion, has been heavily criticised for failing to supervise Hakurozan, who belongs to his stable.
    "I am filled with remorse because it was my responsibility to keep an eye on my wrestlers at all times," Kitanoumi, 55, told reporters. "They denied [smoking marijuana] and I believed them."
    Last week's mass testing, the first the association had ever conducted, were supposed to allay fears that more wrestlers were using soft drugs.
    Instead they have resulted in the downfall of a man many consider one of sumo's all-time greats.
    He will be replaced by Musashigawa, another former grand champion who fought under the name Mienoumi before retiring in 1980.


    can almost hear Peter Tosh groaning "an da sumo-tori smoooook it... so don't you criticiiiiiiize it...."
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