A grand champion is rebuked

The Japan Sumo Association has suspended yokozuna Asashoryu from the next two grand sumo tournaments for playing soccer in his home country Mongolia after he had notified the association that he would sit out the Aug. 3-20 summer regional tour in eastern Japan (not Tokyo) because of injuries.

This is a severe punishment for a grand champion who has won 21 grand sumo tournaments. The 26-year-old yokozuna will be barred from the respective “fall” (Tokyo) and “Kyushu” (Fukuoka) meets in September and November, and take a 30 percent salary cut for four months. In principle, he must confine himself to his residence, his stable or a hospital.

The punishment fits. Asashoryu had submitted a medical report indicating that he would need at least six weeks to recover from injuries. But on Japanese television, he was shown running around on a soccer field with former Japan midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata at a Mongolian charity event. The action appeared to make light of sumo fans who cannot normally attend regular grand sumo tournaments in Tokyo and other major cities.

Asashoryu’s failure to behave properly can be attributed to the association’s past failure to be strict with him. He is known to have gotten drunk and become violent, grabbed his opponent’s topknot, and seriously injured a hopeful sumo wrestler by using a violent sumo technique during practice. But the association was soft on him. In a sense, Asashoryu has been spoiled.

This time the sumo association could not help meting out strict disciplinary measures against him; the Yokozuna Promotion Council had demanded that it do so. Many sumo fans who reside near places that the summer regional tour was scheduled to visit were angry, and promoters of the tour were worried about losing sponsorship money amid a scandal.

Asashoryu’s stable master Takasago, former ozeki Asashio, bears serious responsibility. If he had been more conscious of his role in educating Asashoryu about the way of sumo, particularly with regard to manners and behavior expected of a yokozuna, the incident this time could have been avoided.