Fans attending the first day of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament expressed their displeasure with the sport’s recent scandals despite snapping up the last available tickets on Sunday.
A line for the opening day’s available tickets began forming at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan early in the morning, with all sold by 8:13 a.m., according to the Japan Sumo Association. Over 160 winners’ prizes for bouts in the elite makuuchi were provided by sponsors, a number the association said was more than it ever gets for the first day of the tournament.
For much of the past two months, the scandal-hit sport has been reeling. High-profile competitor Harumafuji assaulted a fellow Mongolian wrestler in October, leading the then-yokozuna to retire, while sumo’s senior referee tendered his resignation over a sexual harassment incident that occurred in December.
But JSA chairman Hakkaku failed to include an apology in the traditional first-day greeting prior to the makuuchi bouts, an omission that disappointed one fan.
“There was a commotion and this was the first day after all. That (apology) somehow had to be included in his greetings,” said Toshio Sakamoto, a 68-year-old from Ibaraki Prefecture.
Another fan, 75-year-old Masaru Yoshida from Yamanashi Prefecture, expressed concern for wrestlers entering the sport in its current perilous state.
“I feel sorry for those entering the sumo world from this point on,” he said. “What I want is for no one to make things worse for them.”
A year ago, the sport appeared to be enjoying a renaissance. Following a match-fixing scandal in 2011, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko had resumed attending the New Year tourney in 2015, and Kisenosato was on the verge of becoming the first Japanese wrestler to be promoted to yokozuna in 19 years.
Kisenosato won the opening tournament to seize promotion to the sport’s highest rank and followed that with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in his March yokozuna debut.
But the lingering effects of an injury suffered in that tournament have kept him from finishing any tournament since. And in the wake of the year-end scandal, the Emperor and Empress will not attend 2018’s New Year tourney.
Still, one fan expressed hope that the sport can still deliver.
“The main thing is what happens on the raised ring, what I want them to show us is quality sumo,” a 29-year-old woman from Gunma Prefecture said.
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