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Japan Rio medal hope Momota faces axe over gambling

The 21-year-old world championship bronze medallist is in a spot of bother over visits to illegal casinos and faces being left out of Rio team.

Japan's Kento Momota at the India Open 2016.

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 sensation, 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."

Zeniya added: "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."

The Nippon Badminton Association said that Momota, who recently rose to number two 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 told AFP. "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."

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 player 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.