Japan sumo wrestlers to be questioned as sport lurches into crisis


TOKYO: Every one of Japan’s sumo wrestlers is to face questioning by outside investigators after a series of incidents tipped the sport into crisis.

The Japan Sumo Association has setup an external panel to question 900 members, including wrestlers and elders of the sport. Former members will also be invited to submit details of old incidents that may have gone unreported.

The move follows the most high-profile case of sumo grand champion Harumafuji, 33, who was forced into retirement and later fined for attacking a junior-ranked wrestler during a drinking session while on tour of regional Japan late last year.

Another wrestler hit the headlines for allegedly crashing a car while driving unlicensed, while a senior referee became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal.

The panel is to be led by a former prosecutor general, Keiichi Tadaki. “Our goal is the preservation of sumo,” Tadaki said at a press conference, according to Kyodo News. “It is important to grasp the reality.”

The scandal involving Harumafuji, who carried the highest rank of “yokozuna”, received wall-to-wall coverage in Japan in November. It attracted the attention of the sports minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, who called for the eradication of violence among athletes.

In January, the association announced the resignation of the sport’s highest-ranked referee, Shikimori Inosuke, 58, over sexual harassment allegations. He was accused of repeatedly kissing a teenage referee and touching him on the chest after becoming drunk during a regional tournament.

Aware of the sport’s worsening image problems, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko did not attend the flagship New Year sumo tournament in Tokyo for the first time in four years.

Also in January, a former sumo apprentice reportedly launched legal action against a retired wrestler and stable master seeking damages over a previously unreported assault.

Early in February, prosecutors received a referral from police over allegations that sumo wrestler Osunaarashi, 25, was driving without a licence when his car was involved in a collision.