TOKYO • Olympic medal contender Kento Momota is in danger of being kicked off Japan's badminton team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and will not be defending his Singapore Open title next week after admitting to gambling at an illegal casino.
The 21-year-old sensation, who last August became the first Japanese man to win a World Championships medal with a bronze in Jakarta, and team-mate Kenichi Tago, 26, could now face a ban from this August's Olympics if found guilty by the country's ruling body.
The duo arrived at Tokyo's Narita airport early yesterday after competing in a tournament in Malaysia, but refused to answer questions.
Japanese officials are set to hold an emergency board meeting this weekend to decide what action to take after the pair's team, NTT East Japan, said they had confirmed that the players placed bets at an underground casino which was raided by police last year.
Nippon Badminton Association (NBA) secretary-general Kinji Zeniya hinted that the organisation would adopt a zero-tolerance policy, saying it would be "probably impossible" for the players to represent Japan in Rio if the allegations were confirmed.
"They have a serious responsibility to society. We must deal with this case strictly," he told local media.
"I'm shocked by this. I would like to deeply apologise to all the Japanese people and fans of badminton. At this stage we cannot endorse these players (for Rio) and it looks as if there will be a harsh punishment."
Momota, who has already qualified for Rio, was set to make his Olympics debut.
Tago, who won a record sixth national title in 2013 but was axed from the Japanese team last year for disciplinary breaches, suffered a first-round exit at the 2012 Olympics.
The Nippon Badminton Association said that Momota, who recently rose to No. 2 in the world rankings, had pulled out of next week's Singapore Open over the furore, adding that the player was likely to know his fate in the coming days.
"Momota won't play in Singapore," chief spokesman Norio Noto said.
"At this stage we do not have all the facts but the executive board will meet to deliberate on his case. Once it does, it shouldn't take that long to come to a decision."
Momota defeated Hong Kong's Hu Yun at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last year to become the first player from Japan to win a Superseries men's singles title last year.
That victory also made him the youngest Superseries champion at age 20.
Singapore Open organisers yesterday revealed that world No. 63 Tago has also withdrawn from the April 12-17 event.
Organising chairman Ng Yoke Weng said: "We have received the official withdrawal of both Kento Momota and Kenichi Tago from the Nippon Badminton Association.
"To fans of the OUE Singapore Open, eight of the world's top men's singles players will be in town next week.
"There will be lots of exciting matches to look forward to."
According to Japan's Sankei newspaper, an unidentified casino official claimed former world junior champion Momota and Tago "frequently" visited the parlour.
Gambling is largely illegal in Japan and the incident comes after a betting scandal that sent shockwaves through the country's most popular sport, baseball, just as it is bidding for inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
A ban for Momota would be a severe blow to Japan's Olympic hopes after the trailblazer backed up his strong showing at the World Championships by becoming the first Japanese to win the Super Series Masters Finals in Dubai last December.
He was also undefeated during Japan's maiden Thomas Cup victory in 2014.
People found guilty of gambling in Japan can face jail terms of up to five years.
•Additional reporting by May Chen