Winning Isn't Everything: Corruption in Sumo Wrestling

Mark Duggan, Steven D. Levitt

NBER Working Paper No. 7798
Issued in July 2000
NBER Program(s):Law and Economics

Although the theoretical literature on corruption is well developed, empirical work in this area has lagged because it has proven difficult to isolate corrupt behavior in the data. In this paper, we look for evidence of corruption in an unlikely place: the highest echelons of Japanese sumo wrestling. This paper provides strong statistical evidence documenting match rigging in sumo wrestling. A non-linearity in the incentive structure of promotion leads to gains from trade between wrestlers on the margin for achieving a winning record and their opponents. We show that wrestlers win a disproportionate share of the matches when they are on the margin. Increased effort can not explain the findings. Winning on the bubble is more frequent when the two competitors have met often in the past. Success on the bubble tends to rise over the course of a wrestler's career, but declines in his last year, consistent with the game theoretic predictions. Wrestlers who are victorious when on the bubble lose more frequently than would be expected the next time they meet that opponent, suggesting that part of the payment for throwing a match is future payment in kind. Systematic differences across wrestling stables suggest that the stables play a role in facilitating the corruption. In times of increased media scrutiny, the match rigging disappears.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7798

Published: Duggan, Mark and Steven D. Levitt. "Winning Isn't Everything: Corruption In Sum Sumo Wrestling," American Economic Review, 2002, v92(5,Dec), 1594-1605. citation courtesy of

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