NAGOYA — The Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament kicked off the opening day on Sunday to a nearly packed house shaken but undeterred by a gambling scandal rocking the ancient sport.
Yokozuna Hakuho, bidding for his third consecutive title, got off to a turbo start with a victory over Georgian Tochinoshin, shrugging off his own critics following a gaffe he made earlier this week.
In the day’s final at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Hakuho quickly got both hands wrapped around the newly promoted komusubi before rolling him to the dirt with an overarm throw.
Sumo’s lone yokozuna won the previous two meets with perfect 15-0 marks and is now on a 33-bout winning streak dating back to January.
Hakuho got in a bit of hot water after admitting to gambling on “hanafuda” card games, but he has not been implicated in the more serious baseball gambling ring, which is allegedly linked to Japan’s criminal underworld.
He later criticized the sumo association for going too far by deciding not to present the coveted Emperor’s Cup, or any other awards at the 15-day Nagoya meet.
Outside the auditorium the mood was somber with a tightened police presence on the lookout for any criminal elements and signs posted near the entrance forbidding gangsters from the premise. Inside, an announcer repeated the same message over the PA system.
Hiroshi Murayama, who is acting chief for suspended Japan Sumo Association chairman Musashigawa, apologized to fans before the yokozuna performed the ritual “dohyo-iri” ceremony.
“I want to apologize in place of chairman Musashigawa from the bottom of my heart for all of the concern we have caused the sumo fans and the people at large who support us,” said Murayama. “The sumo association has come together to make this tournament one in which we make a fresh start in reforming sumo.”
Back in the ring, veteran ozeki Kaio disposed of Russian Aran with a slap down immediately after the faceoff, while Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu muscled out Asasekiryu after getting both hands on his opponent’s “mawashi” belt.
Estonian ozeki Baruto wasted little time fussing with Mongolian Hakuba, twisting the newly promoted komusubi to the sandy surface with an arm bar technique.
Mongolian Harumafuji was the lone ozeki casualty after he put up little resistance and was shoved over the edge with a series of thrusts by Tochiozan.
Former ozeki Kotomitsuki was fired last week along with stable-master Otake as the pair was implicated in gambling on baseball.
According to the JSA, it was the first time since 1985 that there was not a capacity crowd on the first day of the Nagoya meet.
Over a dozen wrestlers have been suspended for involvement in gambling and public broadcaster NHK has taken the unprecedented move in deciding not to air the meet live.