Japanese Baseball Betting Scandal Continues to Simmer

It turns out that global betting and scandals are truly global after all.  Japanese baseball continues to be rocked by a slowly growing tale that involves a major Japan-based ring wagering illegally on both Japanes and American baseball games.  At least eight people have been arrested to date, including the younger brother of Yu Darvish, a transplanted Japanese who’s been pitching for (US) Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers since 2012.  (Yu Darvish was on the sidelines in 2015 due to major arm surgery.)

japan-flagThe problems don’t stop there.  At least three pitchers on the prominent Japanese pro team the Yomiuri Giants were discovered to have been betting on games, although none that they themselves or their team participated in.  Nonetheless, like most pro sports associations, Nippon Professional Baseball maintains strict rules barring their member athletes from betting on professional sports-activities, for fear of performance altering inducements dropped being dropped upon them by interested gamblers.

The three Giants pitchers, Satoshi Fukuda, Shoki Kasahara and Ryuya Matsumoto, continue to have their previous betting histories analyzed, as well as any relationships they may have had with the betting ring of whom several members have already been arrested.  Each of the three pitchers has already been found to have wagered on at least ten games during the 2014 NPB season, and Fukuda, the first of the Giants pitchers to be connected to the betting scheme, was also found to have gambled on other games, such as baccarat and mah-jongg.

Sho Darvish, the younger brother of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, seems to have been far more directly involved.  According to a recent Japan Times report, the 26-year-old served as a bookie for action wagered on both Japanese and American baseball games last May.  The younger Darvish pocketed a 10 percent vig on the wagers he booked via his smartphone, according to the now-public allegations.

Darvish was just one of eight fledgling bookmakers arrested in connection with the operation, which Japanese authorities state was run by a man named So Naoya; Naoya does not seem to be among the eight people already arrested based on current Japanese news reports.  The total amount that was wagered by the ring wasn’t huge by global standards, coming at 18.5 million Japanese yen, or about 140,000 Euros.

Nonetheless, in the highly structured and decorum-bound world of Japanese pro sports, the arrests of the ring’s members, the outing of the gambling ties to the Yomiuri pitchers and others, such as the now-US-based Darvish, has Japanese officials scratching their heads.  As several news reports have noted, the fledgling scandals come at a bad time for Japanese sporting officials in general, who are hoping to have baseball restored as an Olympic medal sport in time for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

While the sardonic among us might just say that Japanese baseball has a whole lot of corruption to incorporate before it reaches the ranks of, say, FIFA, and that being corrupt hasn’t hurt FIFA’s or football’s global popularity, the fact remains that baseball enjoys most of its popularity in countries around the Pacific Rim.  Baseball was once an Olympic medal sport, but along with (women’s) softball, it was voted out of standing as a medal sport before the 2012 Olympics, the first time any such sports had been dropped since polo suffered that fate way back in 1936.

In other words, baseball could really use an Olympic-sized global boost, but this latest chapter is at least a tiny step in the opposite direction.

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