Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Say It Ain't So, Sumo

And you thought mixed martial arts (MMA) had integrity problems. Sumo wrestling, Japan's national sport, has fallen on hard times amid drug, hazing and match-fixing scandals.

Sumo derives from the Shinto religion and its practice is ancient. Professional tournaments have been going since at least 1684. Sumo continues as Japan's national sport yet it has suffered declining popularity, in part because of the scandals. It is having trouble attracting high-level Japanese wrestlers as foreign wrestlers now comprise nearly a third of the ranks.

The Japan Sumo Association (JMA), sumo's governing body, is notoriously reluctant to admit problems in the sport or make changes. Recently its chairman had to resign following a drug scandal (marijuana) involving one of his wrestlers. There have been damaging claims (and denials) of corruption including match-fixing in the sport. Sumo's future, despite its extraordinary past, is very much in question.

Incidentally, sumo wrestlers have not fared well in MMA contests. Here, yokozuna (highest ranking in sumo) Akebono is quickly dispatched by Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Royce Gracie, despite perhaps a 400 pound weight advantage.