The Tokyo District Court on Monday ordered the current head of the Tatsunami sumo stable to pay 175 million yen to his predecessor in return for receiving his rights to operate the stable.
The issue concerns the transfer of “oyakata-kabu” — literally elder rights — from former sekiwake Haguroyama, 69, to former komusubi Asahiyutaka, 34.
Retired wrestlers need to hold such a right if they wish to remain active in the Japan Sumo Association or run a stable, and there are only 105 available, with the exception of nontransferable rights issued to wrestlers who made great achievements as yokozuna.
The practice of selling the right has long been considered opaque, and it is the first time for a court to set a price on them.
Presiding Judge Tsuyoshi Ono said that the selling of the right is a traditional practice in the sumo world, and that the two men had an oral agreement to sell the right to run the Tatsunami stable, held by the former stablemaster, at an appropriate price. “The sale does not go against public order and morals,” he added.
According to the court, the former stablemaster retired from the sumo association at the mandatory age of 65 in February 1999, and transferred the Tatsunami stable right to his son-in-law and adopted son.
In handing down the ruling, Ono said that, when considering that reforms to ban their sale fell through due to opposition from sumo elders, the rights are in fact being sold without any involvement on the part of the sumo association.
He went on to recognize that there was an agreement to pay money for the right, given that the current stablemaster voiced no objections when the issue of payment was brought up in right-transfer discussions, as well as at present it is impossible for a right to be given away for free unless there are special circumstances involved.
The judge added that because the Tatsunami stable is one of the most prestigious, and another former wrestler of the stable paid 175 million yen to receive a different elder right, “even if the transfer was conducted within the family, the price should not fall below 175 million yen.”
The present stablemaster had argued during court proceedings that there was no promise or practice of monetary payment for the title, and that it was given to him in return for his agreement to become an adopted son of the former stablemaster.
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