The Japan Sumo Association board of councilors demoted on Thursday sumo elder Takanohana from his director post over his handling of the assault scandal that led to the retirement of yokozuna Harumafuji.
It is the first time a JSA director has been dismissed before the end of his term.
The JSA unanimously agreed to remove the 45-year-old as director and demote him two ranks within the organization’s hierarchy, leaving him as a board member, for his part in the scandal that has seen the image of the ancient sport again tarnished.
Takanohana’s punishment reflects his failure to promptly report the incident in which Takanoiwa, a wrestler from his stable, was beaten by fellow Mongolian Harumafuji in a drinking session at a bar during a regional tour in late October. Takanohana had also been criticized for refusing to cooperate with the internal investigation until he made himself available to the JSA crisis management panel on Dec. 25, despite having reported the case to the police.
The association also took disciplinary action against the two other yokozuna present at the assault — Hakuho and Kakuryu — by imposing pay cuts on them for failing to intervene. Sumo elder Isegahama, Harumafuji’s stablemaster, resigned from the JSA board.
Former vice education minister Yasuko Ikenobo, who chairs the seven-member council that serves as the association’s key decision-making body, was one of five members who met at an extraordinary session held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on Thursday. Ikenobo said Takanohana was notified of his penalty by telephone and that he acknowledged the decision, saying “I understand.”
“We felt he bears a heavy responsibility and reached the decision to remove him as director,” Ikenobo said. “He violated the director’s duty of loyalty. I hope he solemnly accepts this, sincerely regrets what he did and shows more cooperation and respect going forward,” she said. Earlier in the day, Harumafuji was ordered to pay a fine of ¥500,000 ($4,000) by the Tottori Summary Court for injuring Takanoiwa, who required stitches on his head after he was slapped and struck with a karaoke remote control.
JSA chairman Hakkaku said last week that Takanohana is still eligible to run for a seat on the 10-man JSA board of directors in the next election in February. According to a JSA source, Isegahama, who was also given a two-rank demotion, will seek re-election.
Harumafuji ended his 17-year career in November after admitting to the assault. Takanoiwa, who was a rank-and-file top flight maegashira wrestler, had to sit out the entire 15-day Kyushu tournament due to his injuries and has been demoted to the second-tier division for the upcoming New Year meet.
Takanohana, whose real name is Koji Hanada, is known for boosting sumo’s popularity during his wrestling career, alongside his elder brother Wakanohana. The pair were active in the 1990s through the early 2000s.
Takanohana earned 22 tournament victories, sixth on the all-time list, while setting a number of records including becoming the youngest wrestler to win a top-division title at 19 years and five months. He retired in 2003.
He was elected to the JSA’s board of directors for the first time in 2010, but he lost to the association’s current chairman Hakkaku in the election to pick sumo’s new head in March 2016. Takanohana is considered an advocate of reform in a sport that has also been rocked in the past by allegations of match-fixing and hazing.