Momota out of OUE Singapore Open after gambling admission
Japanese ace Momota could miss out on Rio Games after visit to illegal casino
On a day when he should be celebrating overtaking the legendary Lin Dan en route to his rise to No. 2 in the men's singles world rankings - a first for his country - Japanese badminton superstar Kento Momota is instead sweating over his future.
The 21-year-old shuttler is not just yanked from next week's OUE Singapore Open, but he is also facing a shocking axe from the Olympics after admitting to gambling at an illegal casino with former national teammate Kenichi Tago in their country, according to The Japan Times.
The paper's investigative sources said that the pair visited a casino in Tokyo's Kinshicho area, which was raided by police in April and May last year.
The baccarat establishment was closed after the investigation, and six, including the casino's operator and a senior crime syndicate member, were arrested last year on suspicion of opening a casino.
The casino in question raised around 100 million yen ($1.24m) in three months from February 2015, and the police suspect the money was a funding source for the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate.
The casino operator and others related to the members-only facility were later convicted; about 380 customers were registered as members.
Yesterday, Momota had to withdraw from the Malaysia Open despite beating India's Prannoy Kumar 21-19, 22-20 in the first round because he had to return to Japan, where the Nippon Badminton Association is set to hold emergency meetings to decide what action to take.
He did not answer questions from the media at Narita Airport.
However, things are looking bleak for Momota as secretary general Kinji Zeniya hinted the organisation could 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.
While the 26-year-old former world No. 3 Tago has long had a bad-boy reputation and was booted out of the national team last October due to indiscipline, Momota had been a poster boy after his on-court exploits.
Along with Tago, he won all his matches in Japan's maiden Thomas Cup victory in 2014. Last year, the boyish Momota became the first Japanese and the youngest to win a men's singles title at a Superseries event after his triumph at the OUE Singapore Open.
Building on that success, he went on to win a men's singles bronze at last year's World Championships, again becoming the first Japanese to medal in the category at that event before he won the men's singles title at the Superseries Finals in Dubai.
While Japan could yet make do with losing the talented but erratic world No. 63 Tago, as they still have the better-ranked Sho Sasaki (26th), Kenta Nishimoto (42nd) and Takuma Ueda (45th), a ban for Momota would be a severe blow to their Olympics hopes.
However, the Japanese duo have more than sporting matters to worry about, as it was reported that people found guilty of gambling in Japan can face jail terms of up to five years.