Revelations that two top Japanese badminton players gambled at an illegal Tokyo casino has highlighted the need to provide education to nurture athletes' awareness of their deeds as members of society.
Kento Momota, 21, who was expected to be named to Japan's national badminton team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this year, and Kenichi Tago, 26, who played in the 2012 London Olympics, repeatedly gambled at the Tokyo casino and other places. Momota allegedly lost approximately 500,000 yen while Tago, who invited Momota to the casino, is reported to have suffered nearly 10 million yen in losses.
According to an investigation conducted by their employer, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corp. (NTT East), six other male members of the company's badminton team also bet on baccarat card games at the same casino.
Illegal casinos, where massive amounts of money are betted, are sources of funds for organized crime syndicates. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) searched the casino in question in spring last year and arrested its owner and some customers on suspicion of opening a for-profit betting place. Those who frequent such establishments are feared to form relationships with antisocial forces.
Momota and Tago apologized for gambling during an April 8 news conference and admitted that they knew that gambling is illegal, but gradually lost this awareness. The two used parts of their salaries and prize money won in international games to fund their gambling activities. Tago also borrowed, and owed teammates a total of over 10 million yen. The company should review the way it manages members of its badminton team.
Momota has grown rapidly as a player, as he became the first Japanese male badminton player to win a bronze medal in last year's world championships. He is ranked second in the world, and it was considered a virtual certainty that he would be named to Japan's national team for the Rio Olympics. He was also expected to win medals in the Games.
Momota had declared that he would win a gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics because he wanted to make badminton a popular sport in Japan. He left his parents' home to attend a junior high and high school in Fukushima Prefecture with good badminton programs. He called the disaster-hit prefecture his "second hometown," and said, "I want to make good news in the Rio Olympics as a return favor to the people of Fukushima." The gambling scandal is indeed regrettable, as he was a symbol of reconstruction of Fukushima.
Bearing in mind the seriousness of the incident, the Nippon Badminton Association will not recommend Momota to the Japanese Olympic Committee for a place on the Olympic squad. Momota is probably saddened by this decision but, as he betrayed the trust of those who supported him, it is an inevitable one.
The Nippon Badminton Association is poised to take severe punitive measures against those involved in illegal gambling, but it should consider their futures as athletes.
Athletes who are active worldwide are regarded as role models for children. Those involved in the illegal gambling were apparently unable to resist temptation despite the need for self-discipline as members of the public, partly because their social experience was insufficient.
Government-led efforts are being made in Japan's sports world to train athletes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. There are a growing number of instances in which amateur athletes belonging to ordinary companies participate in overseas competitions and win prize money. Under the circumstances, various sports associations should provide thorough education to encourage self-discipline as members of the public.