Sumo grand cham­pion Haru­ma­fuji felled by as­sault al­le­ga­tions

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Justin McCurry in Tokyo

One of the big­gest stars of sumo wrestling has an­nounced his re­tire­ment af­ter al­le­ga­tions that he as­saulted a fel­low wrestler.

Haru­ma­fuji, one of four reign­ing grand cham­pi­ons – or yokozuna – said he was quit­ting the sport, weeks af­ter he al­legedly at­tacked Takanoiwa, a younger wrestler, leav­ing him with a frac­tured skull and con­cus­sion.

“As a yokozuna, I feel re­spon­si­ble for in­jur­ing Takanoiwa and so will re­tire from to­day,” Haru­ma­fuji told a news con­fer­ence broad­cast live on TV on Wednesday.

“I apol­o­gise from my heart to the peo­ple, sumo fans, the Ja­pan sumo as­so­ci­a­tion, to sup­port­ers of my sta­ble and my coach and his wife for caus­ing such trou­ble.”

The Mon­go­lian wrestler’s exit from sumo at the pin­na­cle of his ca­reer comes as the sport was be­gin­ning to re­gain its pop­u­lar ap­peal af­ter a slew of bad pub­lic­ity.

The episode has prompted crit­i­cism of sumo au­thor­i­ties for fail­ing to rid the sport of vi­o­lence, a decade af­ter a teenage trainee col­lapsed and died af­ter be­ing beaten by fel­low wrestlers for threat­en­ing to ab­scond from his sta­ble.

Ja­pan’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, Yoshi­masa Hayasahi, said sumo, as Ja­pan’s old­est sport, needed to take its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties more se­ri­ously. It needed to stamp out vi­o­lence and “never again be­tray its fans, par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple,” he said.

Vi­o­lence aside, sumo has been rocked by ev­i­dence of match-fix­ing and il­le­gal bet­ting in re­cent years.

In 2010 an­other Mon­go­lia-born grand cham­pion, Asashoryu, was

forced to re­tire weeks af­ter he al­legedly as­saulted a man out­side a night­club in Tokyo.

Haru­ma­fuji’s sta­ble mas­ter, Isega­hama, said the 33-year-old wrestler had “caused great trou­ble” to the sumo as­so­ci­a­tion and the watch­ing pub­lic, adding that as a yokozuna he had to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions.

He al­legedly as­saulted Takanoiwa, a lower-ranked wrestler from an­other sta­ble, dur­ing an evening out at a restau­rant in late Oc­to­ber.

Ini­tial re­ports al­leged Haru­ma­fuji was armed with a beer bot­tle but sev­eral wit­nesses have since claimed that he re­peat­edly punched his vic­tim, a fel­low Mon­go­lian, and struck him with the re­mote con­troller for a karaoke ma­chine.

He had re­port­edly turned on Takanoiwa be­cause he con­tin­ued to look at his smart­phone while he was be­ing rep­ri­manded for his poor at­ti­tude.

“I had heard that he was lack­ing in man­ners and ci­vil­ity and thought it was my duty as a se­nior wrestler to cor­rect and teach him,” Haru­ma­fuji said. “But I went too far.”

He de­nied that he had been drink­ing ex­ces­sively be­fore the as­sault. “I have never been told I have a drink­ing prob­lem,” he said. “This did not hap­pen be­cause I had drunk al­co­hol.”

The in­jured Takanoiwa did not take part in a re­cent 15-day tour­na­ment in south-west Ja­pan, while Haru­ma­fuji with­drew on the third day af­ter me­dia first re­ported the as­sault al­le­ga­tions.

Po­lice have ques­tioned Haru­ma­fuji, who could be charged over the al­le­ga­tions, ac­cord­ing to Ky­odo news.

“Tremen­dous dam­age has been caused to sumo,” said Masato Ki­ta­mura, chair­man of the body that rules on pro­mo­tions to the sport’s high­est rank, adding that the in­ci­dent had “let fans down”.

Ja­panese me­dia were unan­i­mous in con­demn­ing Haru­ma­fuji and sumo au­thor­i­ties, and warned that fans could lose in­ter­est in the sport.

Haru­ma­fuji has de­cided to re­tire from sumo af­ter al­le­ga­tions that he as­saulted a lower-ranked wrestler and tar­nished the im­age of Ja­pan’s na­tional sport. Pho­to­graph: Nao­hiko Hatta/AP

Yokozuna Haru­ma­fuji per­forms the new year’s ring-en­ter­ing rite at the an­nual cel­e­bra­tion at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Pho­to­graph: Is­sei Kato/Reuters

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