Fellow wrestlers react to Hakuho criticisms

Kyodo

A week after Mongolian-born yokozuna Hakuho criticized a decision from ringside judges, wrestlers from the elite makuuchi division weighed in on the comments that appeared to throw cold water on his monumental achievement at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.

Hakuho, who became the all-time record holder after capturing his 33rd career Emperor’s Cup, made a breach of etiquette after wondering aloud why ringside judges had called for a rematch in his bout against ozeki Kisenosato on the 13th day of the tournament.

The judges believed that both men were out of the ring at practically the same time.

Hakuho, who beat Kisenosato outright in the do-over to secure the championship, said at a press conference on Jan. 26: “I went home and watched the video. That was sumo even a child understands,” referring to the first match. “Why did they call for a do-over? I would hope they have a little more sense of urgency.”

What possibly irked the sumo association more, however, was the yokozuna’s veiled reference to racial discrimination.

“The color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. When I am on the dohyo I have the spirit of Japan laced in my topknot. We are all human beings,” he had said before being strictly reprimanded.

Sumo’s foremost yokozuna later apologized when he appeared on a TV variety program, but he never explained what he meant by his remarks.

When asked about Hakuho’s comments, Kisenosato said, “I only give my very best when I am in the ring,” at the end of last month.

Goeido, who like Kisenosato is another Japanese-born ozeki, also did not wish to stir the pot. “We have nothing to talk about,” said Goeido, who was at Ryogoku Kokugikan for a health check on Monday.

But in the cloistered world of sumo, which in a resurgence of popularity had virtual sellouts on each day of the January tournament, a yokozuna — and especially one who has reached the lofty heights Hakuho has — is supposed to set the example.

“The judges decide who won or lost. I was always taught that it is bad if I wrestle in such way that calls for a ringside conference. Even though everyone is fighting hard . . .,” said one makuuchi wrestler who preferred to remain anonymous.

Mongolian compatriot Kyokutenho, who at 40 is currently the oldest in the elite division, said, “I don’t think he meant anything bad by it. There are also some difficult nuances to the Japanese language.”