Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Nadeshiko Japan obviously doesn’t do it for the money

Monday, July 18th, 2011

The victory of the Japanese women’s soccer team at the FIFA World Cup tournament in Germany smashed a lot of preconceptions, most of them having to do with Japan’s international sports profile. However, a more specific truism bit the dust Sunday afternoon in Frankfurt when Japan came out on top, and that’s the notion that the more money you spend on a sport, the better your chances. About 1.5 million girls and women play soccer in America in some sort of organized fashion. There’s a popular professional league. Women’s soccer is a huge business. In Japan, about 45,000 girls and women play soccer. The women’s semi-pro and pro leagues are barely solvent, and there are no organized teams in Japan for elementary school girls. In fact, one of the more interesting factoids to come out of the news about the victory is that many of the members of the Japan national team started playing soccer as children on boys teams.

As pointed out in an article in the tabloid Nikkan Gendai published before the championship victory, Nadeshiko Japan was winning in spite of their meager remuneration. Very few of the members have pro contracts. Two members, Aya Samejima and Karina Maruyama, earned the most at one time playing soccer, about ¥5 million a year each, but that’s because they originally played for the Tokyo Electric Power Co. team — in Fukushima, as a matter of fact — and were thus company employees. After the disaster of March 11, Tepco’s soccer team activities were suspended, but by that point Maruyama has already left. She went to the U.S. and played for while but ended up returning to play for JEF Chiba. Gendai says her salary there is “very small.” Samejima stayed with Tepco until March and then moved to the USA, where her salary was better, the equivalent of about ¥300,000 a month. Team captain Homare Sawa earned about ¥3.6 million a year playing for the Nihon TV team, which among women soccer players is considered “good.” NTV dissolved its team not long ago, and Sawa now “makes less” playing for a team in Kobe.

Continue reading about Nadeshiko Japan →

Who pays for sumo?

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Show me the money!

Show me the money!

The ongoing gambling and gangster scandals in the world of professional sumo has drawn attention to the sport’s rather shady relationship to money. Though sumo is often called Japan’s “national sport” there is no actual law that says it is, and most people probably think it’s the national sport because the main venue for grand sumo tournaments is the Kokugikan (National Sports Hall) in Ryogoku, Tokyo. However, the Japan Sumo Association is a non-profit organization and thus the money it makes is not taxed. In addition, rikishi (sumo wrestlers) are exempt from paying taxes on cash gifts if they receive them from individual supporters (gifts from corporate supporters are taxed). And there are special tax rules for rikishi that mean they pay slightly less in income tax than what the average person who makes the same amount of money would pay.

Still, rikishi earn less than other professional athletes on average. The highest rank of yokozuna (grand champion) receives a salary of ¥2,820,000 a month, which is a lot, but as one sports blogger put it, even a “benchwarmer” on a professional baseball team in Japan makes about ¥300 million a year. Top rikishi can earn about ¥100 million a year, what with gifts and endorsements and performance bonuses. And of course they win cash prizes if they do well in a tournament.

They can also win kenshokin, prize money offered by companies to winners of specified bouts. If you’ve ever been to a sumo tournament, you’ve seen the parade of kenshomaku (sashes) around the edge of the dohyo (ring) before select matches. The sashes carry advertisements for companies, and each one represents a prize of ¥60,000. The more topical the bout, the more banners there are and thus the higher the kenshokin that the winner takes home; that is, after the JSA takes ¥5,000 from each kenshokin for itself and the tax man takes about half of what’s left. The reason you don’t see these on TV, at least not clearly, is because NHK, which has the exclusive right to broadcast sumo tournaments, is a public broadcaster and thus cannot show advertising. They tend to pull back the cameras or superimpose something over the scene when the sashes are being paraded.

According to Wikipedia, the record number of kenshokin for one match is 51, which was at last year’s September grand sumo tournament and was won by recently retired yokozuna Asashoryu, who defeated another yokozuna, Hakuho. The record number of kenshokin for a single tournament was 1,021 at the September Basho of 2006. Asashoryu also holds the record for the most kenshokin won by a single rikishi in a single tournament, 290 at the New Year’s Basho of 2006.

These prizes may take a hit, as the food maker Nagatanien, which has been one of the largest providers of kenshokin since 2000, announced that it is reducing its contributions for the Summer Basho, which starts July 11. The company may even withdraw, according to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, if it determines that the JSA is not handling the gambling and gangster scandals appropriately. In recent years Nagatanien has offered 200 kenshokin at each tournament, which means it spends a total of ¥72 million a year on them. McDonald’s and Morinaga are also big kenshokin contributors, and they may follow Nagatanien’s lead.

In the scheme of things this money seems like a drop in the bucket but it’s significant. Sumo may be the “national sport” but it doesn’t receive money directly from the government, and sumo heya (stables) don’t accept sponsorship, only individual rikishi do. JSA gets its money from NHK, about ¥2 billion a year for the rights, and ticket sales. And maybe from somewhere else, but that’s what the scandal is about.

Soccer lottery BIG in Japan

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

BIG Lotto

Step right up!

Sports tabloids are all gaga over the latest offering of the soccer lottery known as BIG. Thanks to a record carryover of ¥2.5 billion from last year’s BIG lotteries, top prizes for the next round will be ¥600 million, which, if history is any indication, should result on a huge rush on BIG lottery tickets. In the annals of the game there has been a total of 118 first prize winners, 80 of which won ¥600 million each. In 2007, the first time such a huge jackpot was offered, the system broke down because demand was too high.

It’s also a huge turnaround for the somewhat euphemistically named National Agency for Advancement of Sports and Health, which runs the various soccer-related lotteries under the “toto” banner. When it was launched back in 2001, toto was closer to a betting game than a lottery. Players choose which J.League teams will win in certain sets of games, and a player wins the jackpot (¥200 million maxiumum) if he or she chooses correctly on all the games listed. For whatever reason the system never really took off and lost money in the beginning.

In 2006 the agency started BIG, which removed all the brain work: a computer “guesses” the winners at random. This totally serendipitous version of toto became extremely popular, probably because the odds of actually winning a top prize (1 in 4.8 million) were greater than those for winning the standard Takarakuji lottery (1 in 10 million).

And the odds for this round of BIG are even better — 1 in 2.9 million. Tickets, each of which costs ¥300, started going on sale Feb. 18 and will continue until March 6, which is the first day of the new J.League season. Over the years, some commentators have complained about the soccer lotteries, saying that it sets a bad example, especially for children, to raise money for various national sports endeavors (including the Olympics) through gambling. But, in a way, BIG isn’t gambling; or, at least, it isn’t gambling the way toto is. Whether it’s a waste of money probably depends on if you win.

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