Sumo

Sumo 101: Controversial decisions

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

Friday’s controversial overturning of an apparent Tochinoshin win has people up in arms.

Irate fans flooded social media with photos, videos and gifs that they felt proved the burly Georgian was hard done by.

There is even a change.org petition to have the ruling reversed. That gained 6,500 signatures in just under 12 hours.

However at least one camera angle seems to suggest that the judges got the decision right, and it’s certainly inconclusive enough that deferring to the person who was eye level with the ring, just a meter away with his gaze fixed on the spot, was the correct thing to do.

Many called awarding the win to Asanoyama “the worst decision in sumo history.”

It’s not of course.

That title goes to Toda’s win over Taiho in March 1969, an egregious decision that cost the yokozuna, then on a 45-bout win streak, a shot at shot at Futabayama’s legendary record of 69 straight wins.

The subsequent outcry forced the Japan Sumo Association to introduce video replay the very next tournament.

Even with that system in place mistakes can and do happen. Sumo’s rules include a couple of gray areas that can leave things open to interpretation.

One came into play during the July 2004 “bridge” bout between Asashoryu and Kotonowaka, where the yokozuka stayed on his feet despite being flipped 180 degrees, arched his back and pushed his opponent to the ground.

The referee, after seeing Asashoryu get “thrown,” pointed his gunbai toward Kotonowaka’s side of the ring to indicate a winner, but the bout was still in progress.

The ringside judges also were confused by what they had just witnessed and, unable to decide if the “dead body” rule applied, called for a rematch.

Asashoryu won the do-over, but was denied a famous victory with a technique sumo doesn’t even have a name for it.

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