Professor Hidenori Tomozoe of Waseda University examines the controversial topic of match-fixing in grand sumo, asking whether fixing can be reconciled to sumo's dual status as a sport and a form of entertainment.
Defensive and Critical Theories
Cases of fixed matches have been discovered in the world of grand sumo. Everyone in Japan has their own personal views on the grand sumo match-fixing issue. It is as if we are all grand sumo critics. It has even become a social issue that outweighs the situation in the Middle East and Libya, the downturn of Kan’s democratic administration, or the consumption tax debates that create so much controversy.
It goes without saying that match-fixing is downright cheating. Sumo wrestlers have made arrangements for victory ahead of time and participated in matches that deceived the spectators. When faced with the question of whether fixing matches is right or wrong, it is without a doubt wrong. However, the question of whether it is right or wrong when it comes to the match-fixing issue in grand sumo, it is not that simple.
“Grand sumo is a traditional part of our country’s culture, and there have been borrowing and lending of winnings for ages such as in sympathy bouts.” “Sympathy bouts, where the stronger competitor purposely loses to let the underdog win, are a part of Japan’s traditional culture.” “Grand sumo is a form of traditional performing arts and it is different from Western sports where the participants compete with each other for victory.” “It’s alright if there is match-fixing in sumo as long as it’s entertaining. That’s why we watch it—to be entertained.” While there are arguments in defense of match-fixing, there are persuasive arguments such as: “It is a disgrace for match-fixing to be in our national sport sumo.” “The ring is a sacred place for serious matches and it is not just some kind of stage.” This controversy over right and wrong is nothing but a fuss.
From the Viewpoint of Sports Ethics
Sports science includes an area known as sports ethics. It is the study of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the world of sports. Here, we will regard match-fixing in grand sumo not through reasoning based on emotion or calculated reasoning, but from the viewpoint of ethics. In order to make an ethical assessment, the matter of whether grand sumo is entertainment and performance, or whether it is a sport must be settled above all else.
First of all, the idea that grand sumo is a national sport is questionable. In the Edo era, sumo wrestlers had extremely close relationships with gamblers and grand sumo clearly had lower social status than other martial arts such as jujitsu and kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship). It would be more accurate to say that the rise of ideologies such as nationalism and imperialism along with the backlash against Europeanism in the Meiji era pushed sumo up to national sport status. The birth of the Ryogoku Kokugikan in 1909 when there was a patriotic atmosphere and a climate filled with the martial spirit at the end of the Meiji era after the Russo-Japanese War speaks to this point.
The beginning of the East-West victory system in 1909, the granting of the Emperor’s Cup and the formulating of the individual winning system in 1926, the setting of time limits with the beginning of radio relays in 1928, the formulating of shikiri-sen, or starting lines in 1928, the improvement and unification of rings that had been diverse in 1931, and the establishment of rules covering forbidden techniques in 1955 can all be seen as parts of the process making traditional sumo streamlined, sophisticated, and restructured as a modern sport. In addition, it is reasonable to say that steps such as establishing the Yokozuna (Grand Champion) system and forming various ceremonies as of the Meiji era have formed the tradition that E. Hobsbawm described, while sumo has become a modern sport that incorporates elements of the modern sports of the West. Grand sumo is truly a sport that has been established based on the logic of modernism in Japan’s modern industrial society.
Competitive Sports in Pursuit of Excellence
Needless to say, the essence of competitive sports lies in the participants’ playing by the rules of their sport and mutually pursuing excellence while displaying their full potential. Furthermore, there is an unspoken agreement and social contract not only among the participants of the sport, but among all who are involved, including spectators, to accept this.
When taking this all into consideration, fixed matches in grand sumo as a sport are clear violations of the very essence that makes it a competitive sport—the mutual pursuit of excellence—and they are also acts that break the agreement and the social contract. that the competitors have with the spectators. To be precise, match-fixing in grand sumo is a fraudulent act that shakes the very foundations of the establishment of grand sumo as a sport.
If grand sumo were a theatrical performance and not a sport, then the Japanese wrestlers could just play the roles of heroes who compete with their rivals from abroad to please the spectators and there would be absolutely no need for the mutual pursuit of excellence. The Japanese Yokozunas and Ozekis (Champions) could also just valiantly defeat the sinister foreign wrestlers who try to rise above them. However, the fact that many foreign wrestlers, including the highest-ranking Yokozuna Hakuho, are at the top in the Makuuchi division (top division) is proof that today’s grand sumo is a sport where the participants do their best in the mutual pursuit of excellence. Since that is the case, match-fixing in grand sumo is an unacceptable act of misconduct.
About the author: Hidenori Tomozoe
Graduated from the School of Health and Physical Education, University of Tsukuba. Master’s Course completed at the Graduate School of Tsukuba University. PhD(Human Sciences). Appointed to current post after serving as Professor at Kagawa University. Specializes in sports ethics, sports pedagogy, and sports critique.
Vice-Chairman of the Japanese Society of Sport Education, Administrative Director of the Japan Society for the Pedagogy of Physical Education, Managing Director of the Gakutairen (Japan Association of Research for Physical Education in School), and so on. Member of the “Contemporary Sports Critique” editorial board.
Publications include Character Building in School Physical Education [Taiiku No Ningen Keisei Ron] (TAISHUKAN Publishing), Questioning Sports Ethics [Sports Rinri Wo Tou] (TAISHUKAN Publishing), Considering Sports Today [Sports No Ima Wo Kangaeru] (writing and editing, SOBUNKIKAKU), and Principles of Physical Education as Cultivation - To Reflect on Today’s Physical Education and Sports [Kyoyo To Shite No Taiiku Genri - Gendai No Taiiku/Sports Wo Kangaeru Tame Ni] (writing and editing, TAISHUKAN Publishing). Translations include the Japanese version of Fair Play: Sports, Values, and Society (representative translation, Fumaido Shuppan).