Why sumo wrestlers are getting iPads

By Jigsaw / August 25, 2010 / 0 comments

BBC News reports today that the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) is handing out iPads to the sport’s training stables. Why would this odd bit of news make the BBC? And, more importantly, why would sumo wrestlers need free iPads?

It all comes down to crookedness. Corruption in sumo wrestling, a sport wrapped in honor ritual but pervaded with gambling and thrown matches, is actually the subject of a segment directed by Alex Gibney for the soon-to-be released film, Freakonomics. As the segment explains, sumo tournaments and rankings are structured in such a way so as to give strong incentive for wrestlers to throw matches to one another. However, though the practice is ongoing and regular, it can be extremely hard to prove. It’s only with recent statistical investigations of match outcomes that the long-ignored accounts of match fixing have been shown to be true.

But this proof hasn’t achieved much in curtailing illicit practices in the sport. Matches continue to be thrown; gambling continues to happen. In fact, just last month the Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, decided not to carry a sumo tournament live—the first time in over 50 years this has happened. The reason: another scandal, this time involving wrestlers betting on baseball.

So, the iPads. Apparently, the JSA thinks that the computers will encourage wrestlers to email, and that the improved communication between stables and the association will help them investigate corruption more quickly.

It’s unclear that “improved communication” is a solution to resolving an issue as systematically ingrained as corruption in sumo, but if it does nothing, it won’t be the first time the inept JSA has achieved that much.