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The New Year Basho was supposed to be all about ozeki Takakeisho’s bid to become grand champion. Instead, the Emperor’s Cup went to Daieisho, who is set to be promoted back to sumo’s third-highest rank of sekiwake, which he previously held for just a single tournament in September.

Having ticked off one of his career goals with Sunday’s win, Daieisho hopes to achieve another — earning promotion to ozeki, the second-highest rank. “But first I want to get a winning record as a sekiwake,” he said.

There have been other talking points at the basho. Kotokantetsu’s decision to leave the sport rather than risk infection with the coronavirus at the tournament has resulted in a wave of outrage against the Japan Sumo Association. But according to John Gunning, many fans have missed the deeper story and are focusing their anger on the wrong target.

In an infamous incident during the 2018 May Basho, Hokutofuji was defeated by Ryuden after appearing to sustain a concussion during a false start just moments earlier. | KYODO
In an infamous incident during the 2018 May Basho, Hokutofuji was defeated by Ryuden after appearing to sustain a concussion during a false start just moments earlier. | KYODO

Another controversy erupted on Day 10 of the basho. The indifference shown by referees to the head injury sustained by third-tier wrestler Shonannoumi drew criticism from fans and journalists alike. Unlike American football and rugby, sumo has barely begun to address the issue of concussion and the specter of brain injury, but that needs to change — fast, argues Gunning.

In another column, Gunning notes that sumo is drawing a growing legion of foreign fans, fed by streams of bouts supplemented by social media. The downside to all this extra attention, however, has been an explosion of dubious news, fueled in part by the fact that the sport’s source material is in a language that the vast majority of newer foreign fans can neither read nor speak.

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