TOKYO: Japan’s pro baseball organization on Wednesday said it had suspended three pitchers indefinitely and fined the country’s biggest team, the Yomiuri Giants, $800,000 over a betting scandal.
Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) suspended Giants’ pitchers Satoshi Fukuda, Shoki Kasahara and Ryuya Matsumoto for betting on games, which is illegal. They are reportedly the first such sanctions in 56 years.
“They can’t play in the professional league for an indefinite period of time but it’s possible that they can be reinstated later if there is a call for leniency,” an NPB spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
The NPB imposed 10 million yen ($800,000) in fines on the Giants — Japan’s most valuable team and the equivalent of the New York Yankees in terms of popularity — for failing to properly supervise the players.
An in-house NPB report completed last month found that the players bet money with known gamblers in about 10 professional baseball games, but did not find any evidence of game-fixing.
One of them bet on a Yomiuri Giants game but did not play in the game, it said.
The bans were front-page news in mass-circulation newspapers on Wednesday in Japan, where the sport is wildly popular and the level of play world-class.
Many of Japan’s top players have migrated to Major League baseball in the United States over the past two decades.
Gambling in Japan is generally illegal, including most sports betting. The bans were the first since 1969, when a game-fixing scandal linked to gambling and organized crime rocked the sport, according to local media.
It was not clear if the players will face criminal charges, but spokesman Satoru Matsunaga of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said police “have questioned the three pitchers on a voluntary basis”.
“We can’t disclose the contents of the interviews,” he told Agence France-Presse, when asked about local reports that investigators were checking if the players had violated the criminal law against gambling.
At a press conference Tuesday, NPB commissioner Katsuhiko Kumazaki said the scandal had “degraded professional baseball and destroyed the trust of many fans”.
Hiroshi Kubo, president of the Giants, apologised at a separate press conference late Tuesday, saying: “We regard this as an extremely grave situation, and express our sincere apology to fans.”