Probe launched on top-ranked sumo wrestlers in match-fixing

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Tokyo, Feb 9 (Kyodo) A special panel investigating amatch-fixing scandal launched a probe targeting sumo wrestlersin the top two divisions as it seeks to uncover more answersin the biggest crisis to hit the national sport.

Estonian ozeki Baruto, who is among four holding sumo''ssecond-highest rank, was one of the high-profile wrestlersquestioned by the panel, following the Japan SumoAssociation''s (JSA) decision on Sunday to cancel the SpringGrand Sumo Tournament next month.

"This is really a shame. There were a lot of fans whowere looking forward to the spring meet," said Baruto, who waspromoted to ozeki at the Osaka meet last year.

"I will continue to train as if I were going to wrestleat the Osaka basho.

Everyone is fighting hard. I am also working out to puton a good performance," he said.

The investigative panel said that of the 14 whose namessurfaced in cellphone text messages, four have been confirmedas having taken part in match-fixing schemes. Those summonedbefore the panel were also asked to bring their mobile phonesand bank passbooks for examination.

Additional staff has been added to question 70 wrestlersin the makuuchi and juryo divisions and the panel plans towrap up the interviews this week.

"We want full disclosure. We want those questioned toanswer honestly," said JSA Chairman Hanaregoma.

The JSA said it will hold another board meeting and abriefing for sumo coaches at Rygoku Kokugikan today.

Facing the first cancellation of a meet in 65 years, theyare likely to discuss how to handle new recruits as well aschanges to the sumo rankings and payment allowances, a factorthat apparently motivated some wresters to rig matches.

"We might have to rethink the sumo rankings," saidHanaregoma, referring to the "banzuke" that had already beendetermined after the New Year meet in January.

Meanwhile, sports minister Yoshiaki Takaki requested thatall 14 implicated in the scandal cooperate with investigatorsafter learning that some under suspicion may have broken orchanged mobile phones that are supposed to be submitted to thepanel. (Kyodo)

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