Honour is at stake in the sumo world after a series of scandals [GALLO/GETTY]

The head of the Japan Sumo Association resigned after the nation's ancient sport was beleaguered by a gambling scandal involving top wrestlers and coaches, with gangsters acting as go-betweens.

Outgoing chairman Musashigawa, a former grand champion, was replaced on Thursday by Hanaregoma, who once held the second-highest rank of ozeki.

His resignation came as the association aims to restore the confidence of sumo fans amid the gambling scandal, which shed light on connections between wrestlers and organised crime.

"We are facing a lot of problems. I would like to solve them one by one," Hanaregoma said.

The scandal led to a criminal investigation into dozens of top wrestlers and coaches who allegedly wagered tens of thousands of dollars on professional baseball games, using gangland figures as intermediaries.

Criminal contributions

Investigators also found that several sumo training facilities, known as stables, have been financed with contributions from criminals.

But many sumo watchers say the latest scandal merely underscores a close relationship sumo has had with organised crime for decades.

In an incident last year, members of a notorious crime syndicate took complimentary front row seats at a tournament to bolster the spirits of fellow members in prison.

The gangsters were clearly visible on the live TV broadcasts, one of the few shows inmates are allowed to watch in jail.

Source: AP