TOKYO | A gambling scandal has hit Japanese professional baseball at the worst possible time.
Just days before Japan’s version of the World Series begins and as baseball is vying to get back in the Olympics, the sport has been hit by an ugly incident involving the most popular team.
Nippon Professional Baseball announced on Wednesday that two more pitchers from the Yomiuri Giants had bet on professional baseball games.
The announcement follows revelations two weeks ago that Giants pitcher Satoshi Fukuda had bet on games involving his team as well as Major League Baseball. Fukuda did not appear for the top team this season, so there is no suspicion that he fixed games, but gambling is a violation of NPB’s charter.
Yomiuri president Hiroshi Kubo said pitchers Shoki Kasahara and Ryuya Matsumoto admitted to gambling on baseball, but have not been involved in any game-fixing.
“This is extremely regrettable,” NPB commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki said. “Baseball holds a special place thanks to the support it has had for a long time from many fans.”
According to the Giants, Kasahara had bet on 10 professional baseball games between April and October last year and also gambled on high school baseball games. Matsumoto bet on more than 10 games between June and October last year.
Fukuda bet on 10 NPB games and 10 major league games in an attempt to win back over $8,000 he lost gambling on high school baseball games in August.
The Giants have launched an investigation and consulted with police on the matter as gambling on pro sports is illegal.
Baseball and softball have been out of the Olympics since 2008, and their joint bid to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics had been considered a virtual certainty because of the popularity of those sports in Japan.
However International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates doesn’t think the scandal will harm that cause.
“This is a problem that is frowned on in sports in Japan and it’s not going to effect the decision to be taken with baseball,” Coates said at an IOC “project review” of Tokyo’s Olympic preparations last week.
The Central League champion Yakult Swallows will play the Pacific League champion SoftBank Hawks in the Japan Series starting on Saturday.