SUMO COMING TO TOKYO 2020
TOKYO—Sumo is coming—well, almost coming—to the Tokyo Olympics. Knowing it may have the world’s attention, the Japan Sumo Association and local Olympic organizers are planning a sumo tournament on August 12 and 13, just days after the Olympics end. The event was announced on Tuesday and is designed to bring more attention to the Japanese sport. It will be part of a local cultural festival and will take place at the Ryogoku Kokugikan arena, sumo’s spiritual home in east Tokyo.
Event organizers say the tournament will give visitors from overseas an opportunity to watch the sport. The venue is the same one in Tokyo attended by US President Donald J. Trump last year.
The roots of sumo can be traced back to the Shinto ritual for a good harvest in the eighth century. It later was used as martial arts training for samurais before becoming entertainment for ordinary people during the Edo period, 1603 to 1868.
The Edo period brought the introduction of stylized rules, including the art of entering the ring, the use of loin cloths, topknots and kimonos, as well as fighting regulations.
Sumo rituals are some of the most traditional in Japan, and the sport is highly cloistered and mostly closed to outsiders.
The yokozuna—the grand champion rank of rikishi, or wrestler—has a special place in the customs.
Unlike other athletes, rikishi are considered living performers of a cultural tradition and are expected to be role models. This is especially true of the yokozuna.
Only men can become professional rikishi. Under sumo’s Shinto tradition, women are considered unclean and are not allowed to enter the elevated dirt ring, or dohyo.
In 2018, a sumo referee blocked women who went up to the dohyo to provide first aid for a mayor who collapsed in the ring while making a speech at a sumo event in Kyoto. It triggered criticism that sumo officials were prioritizing their gender-biased tradition over someone’s life.
Based on Shinto belief, the dohyo is considered sacred. Before every tournament, Shinto priests perform rituals to pacify the gods by pouring rice, sake and other offerings into a little hole in the center of the ring.
Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizers, meanwhile, again tried on Thursday to allay fears that the 2020 Games could be postponed or canceled by the fast-spreading virus from China.
Tokyo Olympic CEO Toshiro Muto, who on Wednesday said he was “seriously worried” the virus could disrupt the Olympic and Paralympics, backtracked a day later and was more cautious in a news conference with officials from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
“In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I would like to say that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held as scheduled,” Muto said, adding people need to remain “cool headed.”
Craig Spence, the spokesman for the IPC, was even more direct with the Olympics opening in just under six months—and the Paralympics in just under seven.
“One thing I am noticing at the moment is fear is spreading quicker than the virus, and it is important that we quell that fear,” Spence said.
On Thursday, Japan confirmed 45 cases of the virus but no deaths have been reported. Tokyo Olympic officials said they have established a task force to focus on the virus and have been repeating for a week that the games will go ahead as planned.
Despite the assurances, questions keep coming with organizers saying they are deferring to the World Health Organization for advice.
“We need to put things into perspective, and until the World Health Organization tells us otherwise, we will proceed with business as usual,” Spence said.
The Olympics open on July 24, and the Paralympics follow on August 25. Both events are experiencing record ticket demand, which could begin to shift the longer the virus threat spawns uncertainty. It’s a similar story with hotel demand.
Toshiaki Endo, a vice president of the organizing committee, earlier in the week said organizers “are facing all sorts of problems, including coronavirus infections, cyber security and transportation systems.”
Some Olympic and Paralympic qualifying events around the globe have been canceled or postponed by the virus outbreak. Travel restrictions also complicate matters, particularly for China’s large Olympic and Paralympic delegations.
There is also the question of housing 11,000 Olympic athletes safely in the Athletes’ Village. The number is smaller for the Paralympics, but still in the thousands.
The Olympics have been canceled during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1980 and 1984. The event has grown rapidly in the decades since, driven by multibillion-dollar television contracts and billions more from sponsors.