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In Japan, the world of sumo shaken by repeated scandals

All is not rosy in the world of sumo, far from it. But the powerful Japanese Sumo Association (AJS) did not hesitate to take a decision on Friday, February 23, to avoid being accused of laxity. Meeting urgently, the association’s leaders decided to downgrade the « maître » Hakuho, 38 years old, at the lowest rank in the hierarchy of sumotori. After dismissal and early retirement, demotion is considered the most serious punishment for sumo veterans. He is accused of allowing his 22-year-old sumotori student, Hokuseiho, to physically abuse and extort money from his teammates at the Miyagino stable in Tokyo.

The world of sumo is thus facing a new and embarrassing case of violence. She touches one of her biggest stars in a row « yokozuna »the highest title for a sumotori, (only 73 fighters have been able to conquer it since… 1789), who has become a respected trainer, according to the Japanese media. “Hakuho won a record 45 tournaments in his career before retiring in 2021, reports the Japanese agency Kyodo. He has just been demoted and will see his salary reduced by 20%. » After the AJS meeting, Hakuho expressed his deep remorse: “I feel heavily responsible for not having been able to defend my protégés who were victims of abuse. I am sincerely sorry for causing harm to the Sumo Association, the fans and everyone who supports me. »

His student Hokuseiho, whose real name is Ariunaa Davaaninj, also of Mongolian origin (1), voluntarily submitted his resignation to the AJS. The young sumotori of 2.04 m and 180 kg was considered a promising sumotori who shone at the age of 22 in national competitions. However, during the annual sumo tournament in Tokyo last January, Hokuseiho had to withdraw from the competition on the sixth day of the events. Rumors about his violent behavior had started to leak, which prompted the AJS to open an investigation. In this traditional Japanese sport, sumotori live in a community, with their « oyakata » (master) and his wife, in a « heya » where they sleep in a large common room.

A world tarnished by multiple scandals

In recent years, the world of sumo has been tarnished by multiple violence scandals. Last July, a former sumotori denounced the mistreatment suffered over nearly eight years in the world of sumo, with physical violence and regular bullying. In 2009, a former master was sentenced to six years in prison for having encouraged three of his recruits to beat up a young 17-year-old apprentice, who died of his injuries… All Japanese journalists emphasize the exceptional responsiveness of the AJS in this affair, reflecting a desire to put an end to these abuses which tarnish the image of a sport dedicated to the gods of Japan and practiced by ” half god “.

In front of the cameras on Friday afternoon, the young wrestler Hokuseiho, who had resigned, apologized by bowing for a long time: “I deeply regret having used violence against my stablemates,” he said briefly. He already knows that his sumotori career is over and that his dreams of obtaining the title of “yokozuna” to which he was promised are definitively ruined.

(1) Among the 700 sumo wrestlers in Japan, barely 5% are of foreign origin, mainly from Mongolia, Turkey, Hawaii, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia.

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