Sumo

Sumo 101: Cancellations

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Sumo tournaments are rarely canceled.

The last time one didn’t go ahead was 2011, when the Japan Sumo Association called off the March Basho in the wake of a match-fixing scandal.

Had they proceeded with that tournament, it was unlikely to have been televised. NHK and Fuji TV had already canceled their annual one-day sumo events in February, and the former was also considering dropping coverage of the Spring Basho.

The fallout from the 2011 scandal lingered, with the regularly scheduled summer meet that year being converted into a “Technical Examination Tournament” with free admission and no prizes awarded.

A cancellation with even greater consequences took place in 1932.

The JSA was forced to call off that year’s January tournament after the “Shunjuen Incident” which occurred when sekiwake Tenryu and a large number of top-ranking wrestlers protested for reform in sumo’s pay and conditions.

The split saw dozens of rikishi either retire or be expelled from the JSA.

A couple of rival sumo groups formed and eventually merged into a body known as the Kansai Sumo Association. The Osaka-based KSA competed with the JSA for roughly five years before disbanding.

With so many wrestlers having left the JSA in the wake of the split, the top makuuchi division only contained about half as many rikishi as normal until 1933.

The aforementioned canceled tournaments stand out because of just how unusual they are.

It takes exceptional circumstances for a meet not to go ahead. Even the firebombing of Tokyo in World War II wasn’t enough to halt the June 1945 tournament, although it was a shortened event — just one week long — and only attended by wounded members of the military and invited guests.

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