Sumo shattered by champion’s bottle assault claim
TOKYO — The highly ceremonial and ordered world of sumo was rocked on Tuesday as allegations emerged that one of the sport’s worshipped grand champions smashed a beer bottle over a fellow wrestler’s head.
Mongolian “yokozuna”, or grand champion, Harumafuji issued an apology before the Japanese media, as officials said they were probing the incident that has led to his absence from an ongoing tournament.
The 33-year-old Harumafuji hit his countryman Takanoiwa, 27, last month when Mongolian wrestlers gathered over drinks after the autumn tournament, several media reported.
“I deeply apologize over Takanoiwa’s injury,” said Harumafuji — one of three reigning Mongolian yokozuna — at his training site in the western Japanese city of Dazaifu.
But he deflected further questions to the “stable master” who runs the camp.
The ancient sport has an extremely strict protocol, and yokozuna are expected to be beyond moral reproach in addition to showing superior strength and technique in the ring.
Wrestlers are not even allowed to express emotions when they win as this is seen as inconsiderate to the loser.
Tomokatsu Taniguchi, head of legal affairs for the sumo association, said that Takanoiwa’s stable master had submitted a doctor’s certificate regarding a head injury that would require two weeks to heal.
A link between the injury and the allegation is not confirmed, added Taniguchi, as officials are still investigating the matter.
Tales of extreme physical abuse are becoming more common in sumo — Japan’s national sport — which is characterized by harsh training and strict hierarchy.
Last year, a wrestler and his stable master were reportedly ordered to pay more than $287,000 to a fellow grappler for daily abuse that led to the loss of sight in one of the victim’s eyes.
In 2007, a trainee sumo wrestler died after being bullied and subjected to violent initiation rites, sending shock waves through the sport.
A stable master who struck the teen with a beer bottle was sentenced to five years in jail for negligence resulting in death.
And in 2010, firebrand Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu retired after being accused of breaking a man’s nose in a drunken brawl outside a Tokyo nightclub.
Sumo grand champion Harumafuji of Mongolia performs his ring entry moves at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Friday, in January. The Shinto ritual is part of the annual New Year’s celebrations at the shrine.