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In an unexpected development, former yokozuna Takanohana has been elected to the 10-man board of the Japan Sumo Association. But to think that the election of the 37-year-old will bring quick change to the JSA may be too optimistic. After his election, he did not disclose any reform plans. Takanohana may be reluctant to speak up before board members in their 50s and 60s. Still, it is hoped that he will work steadily to modernize the JSA.

Takanohana, a son of popular former ozeki Takanohana, became the 65th yokozuna in 1994, and by the time he retired in 2003 he had won 22 tournament championships.

The JSA is composed of five groups of stables, and the election of board members has in the past been largely determined through coordination within these groups. Takanohana opposed this practice and left the Nishonoseki group to announce his candidacy for the board as an independent. This act in itself let fresh air into the JSA, which often appears overly wary of rocking the boat.

The election held on Monday was the first for the governing board in eight years, with 11 candidates running and 111 JSA members casting votes. Takanohana ended up with 10 votes — only six stable masters had declared their support for him, so three apparently voted against their groups’ preferred candidates. In a strange twist, a Tatsunami group stable master who voted for Takanohana decided to leave the JSA on Tuesday but the following day he suddenly reversed his decision.

All of this shows that some stable masters are dissatisfied with the JSA’s handling of major problems, including the beating death of a young sumo wrestler in 2007, suspected use of marijuana by some wrestlers and recent reports of an alleged act of drunken violence by yokozuna Asashoryu. The JSA also faces the challenging tasks of recruiting apprentices, educating foreign-born wrestlers and attracting more fans.

The most immediate issue facing the JSA is what action to take with regard to Asashoryu, who allegedly attacked and injured an acquaintance. Takanohana should be candid in stating his opinions to other board members. He should not forget his responsibility to sumo fans and the stable masters who have supported him.

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