Sumo tourney in Japan opens with extraordinary measures, no spectators | Inquirer Sports
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Sumo tourney in Japan opens with extraordinary measures, no spectators

/ 05:47 PM March 08, 2020
sumo japan

Yokozuna Hakuho, left, spars on Wednesday in preparation for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka. Pool photo via The Japan News/Asia News Network

OSAKA — In an extraordinary measure taken to combat the coronovirus outbreak, the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament starting Sunday will be held at Edion Arena Osaka without spectators.

The Japan Sumo Association’s stablemasters and others concerned have searched for ways to best conduct the 15-day tournament safely under such trying circumstances.

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First off, all wrestlers will have their temperatures taken every morning and night. If a wrestler has a temperature of 37.5 C or above, his stablemaster will inform Kagamiyama, head of the JSA’s crisis management department. In principle, if a temperature above 37.5 C persists for two or more days, the wrestler will be forced to sit out the tournament.

If the cause of the fever can be clearly identified as stemming from cellulitis, for example, the wrestler’s participation can be allowed upon submission of a medical certificate.

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In the case that a member of the association is diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the tournament will be immediately halted.

To keep the wrestlers away from crowds, they will avoid using public transportation and in principle travel to and from the arena by private car or taxi. They will avoid contact with outsiders as much as possible, and will not be allowed to receive gifts. No one will be allowed to enter or leave the arena while the matches are in progress.

A number of traditions will be either amended or dispelled with. The traditional ladle of water that one wrestler offers to another will be done, but the wrestlers will only go through the motions; they will not put their mouths on the ladle. The ladle and the broom used to groom the ring will be frequently disinfected.

The long, vertical banners with the wrestlers’ names will not be raised outside the arena, nor will there be the traditional taiko drums. As there will be no spectators, the JSA members in charge of checking tickets will be reassigned to observing bouts.

The national television broadcast will be carried out as usual, and there will be the usual announcements when the wrestlers enter the ring and for explanations of judges’ decisions. The wrestlers and judges sitting around the ring will not wear masks.

On the opening day, the JSA chairman will give his welcoming address as always, and the ceremony for returning the championship trophy will also be held. But on the final day, there will be almost no awards from outside organizations or governments.

It is still undecided how the JSA will handle the wrestlers’ records if the tournament has to be suddenly halted midway through. A conference would be held to decide on the criteria for rankings for the next tournament and promotions. The spring tour, scheduled for after the tournament, will either be postponed to next year or canceled.

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As extraordinary as this tournament already is, there is still a title to be won. Of note is that both yokozuna, Hakuho and Kakuryu, are coming back from injuries that caused them to drop out of the previous tournament.

“It’s a strange feeling that I can’t even imagine,” Hakuho said of the spectator-free tournament. In his opening match, he will face komusubi Endo, who dealt him a defeat at the New Year Tournament.

Kakuryu, who missed all or part of the last three tournaments, said he is back to his old self and brimming with confidence.

Sekiwake Asanoyama will be aiming to notch enough wins to earn promotion to ozeki. “This is a special tournament,” he said. “I want to get used to the atmosphere as soon as possible and raise my level of focus.”

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