The Japan Sumo Association said Saturday it will solicit opinions from experts and the public about its heavily criticized policy of banning women from setting foot in the sumo ring.
The association held an extraordinary meeting of its board of directors to address the tradition but did not reach a conclusion, participants said. But it clarified that women can enter the sumo ring in emergencies as an “exception.”
The raised ring, or dohyō, is regarded as sacred in the male-only sport, which observes rites closely linked to Shinto and Buddhism. The ring is off-limits to women, who are considered “ritually unclean” because they menstruate.
The meeting was scheduled following an incident earlier this month in which a referee demanded female medics leave the ring at a sumo venue while they were providing emergency treatment to a mayor who had collapsed from a stroke.
Amid worldwide attention, JSA Chairman Hakkaku apologized, saying the referee at the venue in Maizuru made an “inappropriate response.”
During a separate event this month, Tomoko Nakagawa, the mayor of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, wasn’t permitted to enter the ring to give a speech during a sumo exhibition.
Nakagawa visited the JSA on April 19 and met with public relations chief Shibatayama to ask for the policy to be tabled for discussion.
Nakagawa said Saturday that it is “common sense” that women can enter the sumo ring when a human life is at risk. She praised the JSA’s move to discuss the relevance of the male-only policy and called for an open debate.
“Until now, tradition is the only reason why the policy of banning women has been in place,” Nakagawa said. “My hope is that (the JSA) will lead the debate in a way that can convince everybody.”
JSA Director Toshio Takano also said he believes more talks are needed following Saturday’s meeting.
“Because it is a complex and difficult problem, it’s going to take a lot of time,” Takano, the former head of the Nagoya High Prosecutor’s Office, said.
The JSA is also facing calls to let girls participate in sumo events for children again.
The association had taken the view that events in which children try out sumo with wrestlers should be treated differently from its male-only policy in professional sumo. But it decided last year to bar girls from taking part after sumo wrestlers expressed concern that girls may get injured.
Hakkaku said the association will reconsider whether to allow the participation of girls, even though children’s sumo events will be suspended following reports that boys sustained injuries as well.