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Gambling by top badminton players shocks Japan's sports world ahead of Rio Olympics

The sudden revelations that badminton superstar Kento Momota and teammate Kenichi Tago had been involved in gambling at an illegal casino in Japan sent shockwaves through the Japanese sports world on April 7 ahead of the opening of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Momota, 21, who is expected to win a medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games, and Tago, 26, who took part in the 2012 London Olympics, admitted that they had been involved in gambling. The scandal will make it extremely difficult for the two top athletes to compete in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Gambling scandals recently ensnared the professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants first and then the amateur sports world. The latest revelations come at a time when the Japanese badminton world has recently got a boost from good results. The scandal has dealt a heavy blow to Japanese athletes vying for berths in the Rio de Janeiro Games.

A horde of press corps flocked to the Kishi Memorial Gymnasium in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward that houses an office of the Nippon Badminton Association on the early morning of April 7. Nippon Badminton Association senior managing director Kinji Zeniya said, "I'm surprised. It's extremely regrettable."

Nozomi Okuhara, 21, who ranked eighth in the world, became the first Japanese in 39 years to win the women's badminton singles title at the All-England Championships last month. Japanese badminton players, none of whom has won a gold medal in any of the past summer Olympics, had been expected to win a gold medal at Rio de Janeiro.

The government has boosted subsidies to sports associations to help strengthen their athletes in response to requests from the sports world ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The government has also been carrying out multiple support projects designed to shoulder expenses for sending up-and-coming athletes overseas and helping them attend training camps ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. In the review session conducted in April 2015, the women's badminton team was ranked "A," which means it was expected to win a gold medal. The men's team was ranked "C," which means it could win a medal.

A senior official of the Japan Sports Agency said the agency will strictly deal with the latest gambling scandal. "Because tax money has been used, we must deal with it strictly."

The Japanese sports world has been mired in a string of scandals, prompting calls for placing emphasis on governance and compliance. The sumo world was rocked by baseball betting scandals in 2010 and match-fixing scandals in 2011, and four players in the professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants were found to have been involved in baseball gambling.

Japan Sports Agency Commissioner Daichi Suzuki said, "The high integrity of the Japanese sports world has been highly evaluated by the international community. " Nonetheless, the credibility of the Japanese sports world, which prided itself on its excellent image, has just been tarnished.

Momota and Tago arrived at Narita International Airport on the morning of April 7 before getting into a black van to head to the headquarters of their employer Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corp. (NTT East). The entered the NTT East head office shortly before 9 a.m. According to NTT East's public relations department, the company started questioning the two men immediately and they admitted to betting.

Kento Momota's father Nobuhiro, 51, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "He has no option but to take responsibility on his own because he is an adult. I want him to apologize to the world and correct his behavior."

Sports commentator Masayuki Tamaki said, "It's regrettable that the athletes who were expected to win Olympics medals allegedly frequented a casino. Athletes who compete in world events must be socially aware. Because the athletes have not matured to that extent, they went to a place that is illegal."

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