National / Crime & Legal

Sumo advisory council recommends 'extremely harsh punishment' for Harumafuji


An advisory body to the Japan Sumo Association has called for an “extremely harsh punishment” to be meted out to grand champion Harumafuji over his alleged assault of a lower-ranked wrestler, the head of the council has said.

“Tremendous damage has been caused (to sumo). It let fans down,” Masato Kitamura, chairman of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, said Monday.

Harumafuji is alleged to have assaulted Takanoiwa during a drinking session at a bar in the city of Tottori, where a regional tour was taking place, late last month.

Punitive actions that the JSA can take include dismissal, recommending the yokozuna retire or suspending his participation in tournaments. The panel put off making a decision on Monday, seeing the need to look into the matter more thoroughly.

The powerful council is tasked with making recommendations to the JSA over yokozuna promotions in sumo’s elite makuuchi division and other related matters concerning grand champions.

In 2010, a recommendation made to the JSA led to the retirement of Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu following reports that he injured a man in a drunken rampage.

Kitamura said some council members also made an issue of the behavior of Hakuho, another grand champion, as “unfitting of a yokozuna,” as the JSA says wrestlers of that stature must have class, not just physical strength.

On Tuesday, JSA Chairman Hakkaku apologized over the scandal to Japan Sports Agency chief Daichi Suzuki in Tokyo.

“I’m deeply disappointed. The case goes against public expectations,” Suzuki said.

Hakuho, who clinched his 40th career title in the just-concluded Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, told spectators Sunday that he wants Harumafuji and Takanoiwa, who were absent from the tournament, to return to the ring and urged spectators to shout “banzai” in unison.

Hakuho, Harumafuji and Takanoiwa are all from Mongolia.

As accounts of what happened on the night of the alleged assault become more confusing by the day, Hakuho’s unexpected action to ask for the banzai cheer has come under fire in the sumo world. Some criticized the move because of the timing and the fact that Hakuho was present at the bar during the incident.

On Tuesday, Hakuho was questioned by police. “I told (them) everything I know,” he said.

Hakuho was a hot topic during the unusually long council meeting held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

“How could he ask the spectators to say banzai at a time when the issue of Harumafuji is shaking (the sumo world)?” Kitamura said at the conclusion of the meeting.

A stablemaster in his 40s also criticized Hakuho for being “irresponsible with (his) words” and questioned the governance of the sumo association, saying the JSA could have warned Hakuho in advance to take care in his actions.

Hakuho was also reprimanded by the JSA during the tournament. He raised his arm in protest at the referee’s decision after suffering a defeat to sekiwake Yoshikaze. For a sumo wrestler, protesting after a bout is deemed taboo.

The JSA, meanwhile, has issued a gag order to sumo wrestlers and stablemasters as the police investigation into the alleged assault continues. Even the group’s media relations officer, who has been updating reporters about the incident, has become more tight-lipped.

Further complicating matters is the reluctance of Takanoiwa’s stablemaster, Takanohana, to cooperate with the JSA’s probe. His stance is also highlighting a power struggle within the association.

With no plan in place to question Takanoiwa, the JSA appears to be at a standstill in its effort to deal with the scandal, a source said. Takanohana, who lost to Hakkaku — the former yokozuna Hokutoumi — in the chairman race last year and is said to harbor ill feelings toward the current JSA leadership, has been repeatedly asked to cooperate with the panel.

For two days in a row from the 13th day of the Kyushu tournament, Takanohana was summoned by the JSA multiple times, in an attempt by Hakkaku to convince the stablemaster to allow Takanoiwa to give his side of the story. One stablemaster said the JSA was likely trying to keep pressure on Takanohana.

But Takanohana did not relent.

The JSA remains skeptical of Takanohana’s actions, especially his hint that he might take the assault allegations to court.

A panel member said Takanohana has “given up the right” to be heard, despite the JSA’s offer to hear Takanoiwa’s side of the story. If the decision turns out to be “unfavorable” for Takanohana, he cannot complain, the member said.