Sumo: is japan's national sport on the ropes?


Japan's ancient sport might lose its fans if Sumo wrestlers continue to lớn show disappointing performances in the ring.

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Critics slammedpoor technique, weak physical strength và the large number of top-ranked wrestlers who pulled out of the recent Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo with injuries.

Oneeditorial even predictedthat spectators would soon turn their back on Japan"s national sport, reducingit to irrelevance, unless improvements are forthcoming.

To underline their argument, critics pointed out that the overall victor after 15 days of bouts at Tokyo"s Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium was Tamawashi, whoat the start of the tournament was ranked "hiramaku" — the fifth-highest classification for wrestlers.

Born in Mongolia, Tamawashihadbeen a largely unspectacular fighterbattlingin the middle ranks of the sport, but whoseSeptember 25 victorymade him the oldest winner of a "basho" tournament since 1958.

Three days after the 37-year-old accepted the Emperor"s Cup, an editorial in the Sankei Shimbun insisted that the "slump in quality in sumo matches cannot go on."

US President Donald Trump presents the Presidents Cup to Asanoyama at Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium in 2019Image: Shealah Craighead/Planet Pix/ZUMA Wire/picture alliance

"Poor performance"

The newspaper pointed out that virtually every wrestler in the đứng top two ranks — "yokozuna" và "ozeki" — lost early bouts that effectively ruled them out of the running for the cup, with the "poor performance of the ozeki-ranked wrestlers being nothing but serious."

The situationwas compounded by the highest-ranked wrestler in the tournament, Terunofuji, withdrawing on the 10th day due to lớn injuries to both knees. The wrestler is understood to have required surgeryand will likely miss at least two more tournaments —dealing another blow lớn the sport. The commentary also took issue with training regimens.

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The Sankei warned, "Hollowing out of the upper ranks will be inevitable. If this situation continues, the national sport cannot escape the slander of merely being a signboard" of what the thể thao used to lớn be, adding that unless the japan Sumo Association (JSA)takes urgent action, fans of the thể thao will show their displeasure by no longerattending tournaments.

Sports journalist Yoichi Igawa,who covers the thể thao that dates back more than 1,300 years, echoedthat sentiment & cautioned that sumo"s reluctance to lớn modernize may be its undoing.

"I fear it is becoming an obsolete sport in Japan," he told "Wesay sumo is our national sport, but crowds are thinner than in the past and the vast majority of people who vị go are old."

"This is not a thể thao that appeals lớn young people, so what happens when the older fans are all gone?"

Resisting change

Yet too many people in the sumo world resist change, he continued.

"It"s a very small, conservative world where all the decisions are made by veterans of the ring according to a strict hierarchy," he said. "They vì not lượt thích to see changes,they don"t lượt thích outside critics & they don"t much like to see foreign wrestlers being the best at a "Japanese sport.""

Sumo is tough and physical demanding, especially for young và lower-ranked wrestlersImage: Reuters/K. Kyung-Hoon

Fred Varcoe, a British journalist who has written about sumo for publications around the world, agreed that sumo "is stuck in its sense of traditionalism, to lớn the point that the people who oversee sumo are simply unable to lớn adapt, update or refine the sport."

Many successful wrestlers who had retired và joined the JSA made efforts lớn introduce changes to make the thể thao more accessible và appealing, Varcoe pointed out. But these relatively young "elders" of the thể thao are outnumbered and politically outmaneuvered in the association by its deeply conservative members.

One such wrestler with a reformist agenda was Takanohana, who won 22 tournaments in the space of 19 years (the sixth-best record in history). He joined the JSA board in 2010 but resigned in 2018.

Adding lớn sumo"s issues are a number of scandals that have dogged its recent history — including assault allegations and illegal gambling on bouts — as well as drug-taking among wrestlers and link to organized crime groups.

Most sumo wrestlers must live in communal "stables," where their lives are strictly dictated by tradition. In 2007, stable-master Junichi Yamamoto was arrested over the death of a novice wrestler, 17-year-old Takashi Saito, and it later emerged that Yamamoto hit him on the head with a beer bottle after he tried to lớn run away due to lớn bullying.

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"May not survive"

"The unique of wrestlers will fluctuate up & down, just as it does in any sport," Varcoe described. "The bigger problem that sumo faces right now is that japan has a rapidly aging population và there are not enough children coming through to take up the sport," he said.

"Young Japanese want khổng lồ play on their thiết bị di động phones; they don"t want to lớn get up early và train for a physically demanding sport lượt thích sumo."

In the past, one effective solution has been in the past is khổng lồ bring in more wrestlers from overseas, he continued. "There have been Hawaiians and Mongolians who have risen khổng lồ the vị trí cao nhất of the sport," Varcoe said. But he cited continued reluctance among many"as they want to lớn keep it Japanese."

"It"s a tradition as much as a sport. But if things don"t start changing, then it"s not going khổng lồ grow," he said. "And it may not even survive."