Japan may have lost it’s trailblazing badminton star for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics today after bosses handed Kento Momota an “indefinite suspension” for his visit to an illegal casino with teammate, Kenichi Tago.
Tago plead with officials and told reporters, “I don’t care what punishment I get, even if I can never play badminton again. My only wish is that you give Momota another chance,” according to a report in Reuters.
Momota earned his place in history in December when he won the Badminton World Federation Super Series Masters Final; the first time a Japanese player has won the prestigious award. In August he won a bronze medal in Jakarta giving Japan its first men’s singles world championship by placing in the top three.
Officials said it would be difficult to nominate the 21 year old player to the Olympics after learning that he had visited an illegal casino. Momota was devastated by the news, which dashed a childhood dream of his. He apologized to all who had “raised [him] to this day,” saying, “I have betrayed all of them and I am deeply, terribly sorry.”
Although the secretary general of Nippon Badminton Association, Kinji Zeniya siad it would likely be “impossible” to send Momota to Rio, a final decision won’t be made until this weekend.
Tago, the more prolific gambler, introduced Momota to a casino in the Sumida Ward of Tokyo in 2015. Officials believe revenues from the baccarat casino funded a local crime syndicate and made nearly $1 million in the few months it was open. In total Momota estimated he had lost about 500,000 yen ($4630) while Tago had spent about 10,000,000 yen ($92,622) at casinos. The only legal gambling venue in Tokyo is the Tokyo Racecourse. However there are hundreds of Pachinko parlors (vertical pinball gambling machines) in the bustling city, that are seen as social activities rather than gambling.
Badminton is a fiercely competitive sport which resembles a cross between tennis and ping pong where players use
racquets to hit a shuttlecock across a net, scoring if it touches the ground on their opponent’s side. Officials the world over discourage amateur and professional athletes from associating themselves with gambling in any form out of fear that players could be compromised or even give the appearance of impropriety. Non-athletes however bet on the outcome of almost any sport, and adrenaline junkies gravitate toward some of the most competitive contests such as badminton.
According to Wikipedia, badminton has been a Summer Olympic sport since 1992 with the Games featuring five events: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.