Sumo’s chief referee will resign over a sexual harassment scandal, the sport’s governing body said Saturday after an extraordinary meeting of its board of directors.
Shikimori Inosuke will not referee any further matches after receiving a three-tournament suspension, the Japan Sumo Association said at a news conference on the eve of the New Year Grand Tournament. The directors handed down the suspension at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, and will formally accept Shikimori’s resignation when his ban is lifted following May’s Summer Grand Sumo Tournament.
The incident occurred while the association was still investigating another scandal over then-yokozuna Harumafuji’s skull-cracking attack on a fellow wrestler in October.
“At this time, following in succession after the assault issue, we had this incident of Inosuke’s inappropriate acts,” JSA chairman Hakkaku said with a pained expression during a news conference. “I’m sorry for this.”
In light of the scandal, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have decided to skip the New Year tournament for the first time in four years.
Shikimori has apologized to the association for repeatedly kissing a teenage referee and touching him on the chest while intoxicated during a regional tour of Okinawa last month. The junior referee has declined to file charges.
Asked about the timing of the resignation, Hakkaku said, “Being a head referee comes with heavy responsibility. We wanted to give him time to reflect on this.”
Although Shikimori’s name will continue to appear on the ranking tables for the year’s first three grand tournaments, the referee will not be in attendance. The association also handed down strict warnings to sumo elders Kasugano, who is now in charge of regional tours, and Miyagino, whose stable Shikimori belongs to.
According to senior executives, Shikimori, the JSA’s sole head referee, has a record of incidents linked excessive drinking. He told the panel he had no memory of harassing the junior referee. The attack that cost ex-yokozuna Harumafuji his place in sumo also occurred amid late-night drinks during a regional tour.
Although there is another top referee post, named after former referee Kimura Shonosuke, it currently stands vacant because there are no other refs qualified to inherit this particular name.
The New Year tournament will thus go forward without a head referee — a situation that also emerged in the first two grand sumo tournaments in 1994.
“My hope is that the wrestlers summon every ounce of strength they possess and put on a fine display of sumo,” Hakkaku said. “We need to put on a good show for the fans.”