Disgraced Japanese badminton star Kenichi Tago makes new life as coach and player in Malaysia’s Purple League
Unlike fellow gambling ban star and new world number one Kento Momota, former world number three has not been embraced back into badminton
He was once the world number three, a member of the national team that clinched the prestigious Thomas Cup and the first Japanese badminton player to lift the Asian junior title, but now Kenichi Tago and his former colleague Kento Momota are living very different lives.
Both players were involved in a gambling scandal prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics and accordingly, were banned by the Japan Badminton Association and missed the Games.
While the younger of the two, Momota, only 24, returned to action last year before clinching the singles world title in Nanjing in August and surging to become the world number one last week, Tago now works quietly as a visiting coach for the Malaysia women’s team and plays for Petaling Badminton Club in the Purple League.
According to reports in Malaysia, Tago, now 29, felt sorry for what he has done before..
“I have quit gambling,” he said, according to reports in Malaysia. “I was too young and impulsive those days and just followed my instinct.
“Since I have been banned in Japan, it would have been very difficult for me to even find a job. I am currently enjoying myself here as I still get to play badminton.
Tago, however, refused to comment on the active again Momota.
“We have not kept in touch since the ban, and I think that is best for him. I wish only the best for him,” he said. “Maybe one day after they lift the suspension on me or Momota has retired from the playing field, we can talk again.”
The gambling incident took place in 2016 when the two Japanese players were suddenly recalled home by the Japan Badminton Association after playing the first round at the Malaysia Open in Kuala Lumpur.
The following day both players appeared in a press conference and apologised for their behaviour.
It was reported Tago lost 10 million Japanese yen (US$87,734) in more than 60 visits to illegal casinos in Japan. Momota is said to have joined him six times and lost half a million yen.
While Tago was suspended indefinitely by the authorities, the ban on Momota was lifted last year. Since then, Momota clawed back up the pecking order from no ranking after suspension to world number one last week.
Tago’s mother Yoshiko Yonekura was also a badminton player, capturing a silver medal at the 1978 All England Open in the women’s doubles.
Tago also won an All England silver medal after losing to Lee Chong Wei, of Malaysia, in the men’s singles final in 2010.
“I have a lot of respect for the Malaysian ace,” said Tago in the reports. “Just like Momota was my junior, I see myself as a junior to Lee.
“Out of 19 meetings, I have only beaten him twice. I don’t want to say much and hope the general public will give him that respect to allow him to have his space.”