Sumo taken off air in gambling scandal

For the first time since it began televising sumo tournaments 57 years ago, Japan's public broadcasting network has decided not to screen the upcoming competition live because of an illegal gambling scandal.

The decision underscored anger among the ancient sport's fans over the behaviour of coaches and wrestlers who are accused of gambling heavily on baseball, sometimes with gangsters as middlemen.

NHK, which has broadcast each of the six annual tournaments since 1953, said the scandal generated a flood of complaints from viewers, with most saying that they did not want the 15-day competition that begins on Sunday to be aired. Instead of its usual live broadcasts of the top divisions, NHK will show a delayed, abbreviated version.

The scandal has captured Japanese headlines and topped news broadcasts for weeks. On Sunday, the Japan Sumo Association banned a leading wrestler Kotomitsuki and his coach, Otake, and its chairman agreed to temporarily step down.

Responding to media allegations, Kotomitsuki, 34, who holds the sport's second-highest rank, revealed last month that he bet on professional baseball. Otake, who is a former wrestler, acknowledged running up betting debts of more than £30,000.

An internal survey by the JSA last month found at least 65 of its members had been involved in illegal gambling. Police are investigating, and one arrest has been made.