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Big in Japan: Sumo wrestlers diagnosed with reefer madness
Last month, Big in Japan reported on how an increasing number of Japanese people have been tuning in and dropping out, thanks to the easy availability of marijuana seeds on the Internet for home cultivation.
Back in July, a government worker was arrested after police raided his personal greenhouse in western Japan. In May, customs officers at Tokyo Narita International airport accidently lost US$10,000 worth of hash after it had been slipped illegally into a random traveler's luggage - they were foolishly attempting to test the noses of the canine sniffers.
And now, Japan's national sport of sumo, which dates back hundreds and hundreds of years, is being rocked by a drugs scandal. Indeed, sumo has historically been an extremely conservative sport, and wrestlers are obliged to conform to the highest possible Japanese standards of morality.
Two weeks ago, a 20-year-old Russian known by his fighting name of Wakanoho, was arrested for possession of cannabis, and now faces up to five years in prison with forced labor. The Sumo Association immediately banned him for life, the first time an active wrestler has been kicked out of the sport.
Oh, but the reefer madness doesn't stop here - keep reading!
Following the banning of Wakanoho, random drug tests were carried out on 69 other wrestlers in the top two divisions. As if things couldn't get worse, two more Russians, Roho and Hakurozan, both tested positive for cannabis.
The two have denied smoking bud, and police searches of their private quarters did not yield any illegal plant matter. Since Japan's Cannabis Control Law outlaws possession, but not the use of the drug, the two wrestlers cannot be prosecuted. However, the Sumo Association was somewhat less forgiving, and immediately banned both wrestlers. A second test has also confirmed the initial findings.
And again, as if things couldn't get any worse, this week the Chairman of the Sumo Association, Kitanoumi, stepped down to take responsibility for the scandal. The former grand champion, who mentored the Russian wrestlers, issued this humble and apologetic statement:
"I bear the responsibility. I am offering my resignation out of my own volition because I have troubled the Sumo Association and its fans. I must reflect deeply by myself."
Sadly, the reefer madness sweeping across the world of sumo isn't the only affliction threatening to unravel Japan's national sport.
Earlier this year, a coach and three wrestlers were charged over the death of a trainee. According to prosecutors, they are accused of beating a 17 year-old kid, who later collapsed and died in hospital, as a punishment for running away.
Mongolian-born Grand Champion Asashoryu, the so-called "bad boy of sumo," has also garnered his unwanted share of the media spotlight. Last year, he was temporarily suspended, the first such move in the sport's history, for missing a training tournament.
While a fair number of sports commentators are sounding death knells, I'm fairly optimistic that sumo can bounce back. After all, if American baseball players can get away with lying before a Congressional panel over their alleged steroid use, then why can't a few wrestlers toke a little herb to help them relax?
Puff, puff, pass.
** All images are courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **