Olympic medal contender Kento Momota is in danger of being kicked off Japan's badminton team for Rio after admitting to gambling at an illegal casino, his club said Thursday.
The 21-year-old world number four, who last August became the first Japanese man to win a world championship medal with a bronze in Jakarta, and team-mate Kenichi Tago could now face a ban from this summer's Olympics if found guilty by the country's ruling body.
The two players arrived at Tokyo's Narita airport early on Thursday 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 it had confirmed that the players placed bets at an underground casino which was raided by police last year.
An NTT spokesman said: "We have verified the fact that both Tago and Momota visited the so-called illegal casino and gambled there."
Nippon Badminton Association 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," he told local media. "We must deal with this case strictly."
According to Japan's Sankei newspaper, an unidentified casino official claimed Momota and Tago -- who won a record sixth national title in 2013 but was axed from the Japanese team last year for disciplinary breaches -- "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 he 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.
People found guilty of gambling in Japan can face jail terms of up to five years.Publicly operated gambling such as horse racing and "keirin" bicycle racing, however, is not illegal.
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