Sumo Scandal: Why Did Yaocho (Match-fixing) Happen & What Happens Next

Yaocho is the Japanese word for match-fixing. Now for a long time many people have been believed yaocho was happening in sumo.  Former rikishi have come forward and were always dismissed by the media, courts, and the Japanese public. The book, Freakanomics also brought to the forefront the numerical evidence to show that something strange was happening on Senshuraku, the final day of each sumo tournament. Rikishi with records of 7-7 were way more likely to win their match. In sumo this is huge. A winning record guarantees you will move up in the rannkings, while a losing record guarantees you ranking will drop. Here’s a quick video clip about yaocho as well that mentions Freakanomics:

More recently an oyakata (Miyagino) was taped saying yaocho happens (needless to say, this man is no longer an oyakata). Now the police have come forward with text message evidence of yaocho. With this evidence the Japan Sumo Association has canceled the Osaka Basho, all Jungyo Exhibition Tournaments, and have said the Natsu Basho will be very difficult (translation: fat chance of happening)

What surprised me (and likely other readers) is that these text messages dated back from the baseball betting scandal of 2010. Nearly eight months ago. So again, I ask the question, “Why was this being brought to the media now?”

One thing I know about the Japanese Police is that they have something like a 99% trial conviction rate. These guys are thorough. They take their time building a case so it’s airtight. That’s likely the reason this is coming to light now.

If anyone on the inside would like to e-mail us some information we would gladly accept it, but until that happens (unlikely) I’d like to offer a few pieces of speculation. The number one reason why I think yaocho happened, and what will likely happen next now that the yaocho scandal has broken.

Yaocho happened first and foremost because

Guys will be guys: Let’s face some facts: anytime three or more men are gathered, with nothing to do, excuse my language but creative shit is going to start happening. As a man, I have witnessed this happen on nearly a daily basis throughout my own lifetime. Statistically speaking, said creative shit happening is nearly quadrupled if this gathering of men is absent of the opposite gender. If your a guy, think about your own experience for a moment. Maybe you were with your buddies and the power went out. Or you and your friends were out on the town and had some time to kill before your taxi picked you up. And of course you and your buddies are on a camping/hunting trip in the middle of nowhere. Oh the stories we could all tell; I am certain. So now think about the Sumo Kyokai.

An organization that is dominated by men. The sport is all about excess. Yaocho, gambling, and other stupid shit, that would cause any man to giggle, definitely happens in this environment. There is no way it’s not. Just imagine. Your drinking buddy from Matagino Heya (Creswell for example) is 7-7 about to be dropped back to Makushita (the third division, which is basically unpaid) if he loses and you happen to be facing him on the final day. The occasional trade off with your buddy from another heya isn’t going to bother you much because it means you’ll both have cash to “make it rain” after practice and during the basho.

So what is going to happen now that the Yaocho Scandal has broken?

1. NHK will break its ties with the current Sumo Association. I just don’t see NHK putting up with the current JSA anymore unless some major shifts in power take place. Which brings me to my second point.

2. The Ministry of Education will restructures the Japan Sumo Association. I will be absolutely shocked if this one doesn’t occur.  More outside supervision on the way and the association will likely lose their public-interest corporation status.

3. Takanohana Oyakata will be assigned the head of the newly restructured Japan Sumo Association. The Sumo Association desperately needs a hero. The last true Sumo boom was when Takanohana and his brother were atop the dohyo. This guy is clean, good looking, and a natural leader. Now that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he has to say but he is one of the only board members as far as I can see that hasn’t dipped his hand into the corruption cookie jar. If Sumo is going to come back stronger it needs a leader and I think Takanohana Oyakata is that man. Now I have other ideas as well about production and the use of the internet to promote the sport but that’s a whole can of worms by itself.

Again these are just my speculations. What you guys think? If you have information you’d like to share with us leave it in the comments, e-mail us at, find us on facebook, or twitter: @sumoandstogies

Without sumo for the next couple of months, we’ll continue to bring you the latest news and our own opinions as well. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens.

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