TOKYO: The "curse of Colonel Sanders", blamed for a Japanese baseball club's quarter century of bad luck, was declared exorcised in a full Shinto rite Thursday.

"The curse is completely broken," chief priest Tsunetada Mayumi said at Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka, home to the Hanshin Tigers, after reciting a prayer in front of a life-sized doll of the bearded, bespectacled colonel.

The statue of the KFC founder was raised from the sludge of a canal in Osaka in March, 24 years after it was tossed there by overexcited supporters when the Tigers won the national championship for the first time.

"It is destined to become a saviour for the slumping Hanshin Tigers," the priest, an 86-year-old devout Tigers fan, told reporters at the 1,800-year-old shrine.

The rite was held during the fast food chain's annual service to give thanks to the chickens it has served up.

Since the statue was lost, the team has gone astray in a streak of ill fortune that has come to be known as the "Colonel's curse", failing to sign promising rookies or win another national championship.

The unruly Tigers fans who threw it in the canal thought the restaurant mascot resembled the team's US slugger and home run king Randy Bass.

When construction workers discovered the statue in March, fans believed it spelt an end to the jinx.

But, as of Thursday, the Tigers stood next to last in the six-team Central League, one of Japan's two professional baseball divisions.

Kentucky Friend Chicken Japan Ltd. has entrusted experts in restoration of cultural assets to preserve the doll.

"It smelled of the canal a little bit then but it no longer does," Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan president Masao Watabe said. "Although the team has been struggling at the bottom, I wish they would 'resurface' as the colonel did."