Grand champion Harumafuji retires over assault incident
Send a link to a friend
[November 29, 2017]
By Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki
TOKYO (Reuters) - Sumo grand champion
Harumafuji announced he would retire on Wednesday to take
responsibility for injuring a junior wrestler in an incident that
has threatened to taint the image of Japan's national sport just as
it was regaining popularity.
The 33-year-old Mongolian-born "yokozuna" (grand champion) had
already apologized earlier this month after media reported he had
beaten junior wrestler Takanoiwa while drinking at a restaurant-bar
with other wrestlers.
"As yokozuka I feel responsible for injuring Takanoiwa and so will
retire from today," a stern-faced Harumafuji told a news conference
carried live by several Japanese broadcasters in Fukuoka, southern
Japan, site of the most recent tournament.
"I apologize from my heart to the people, sumo fans, the Japan Sumo
Association, to supporters of my 'stable' (gym) and my 'oyakata'
(coach) and his wife for causing such trouble."
Harumafuji gave no details of the incident -- still under
investigation by police -- which media reports said occurred when he
got angry because the younger wrestler was checking his smartphone
after being chastised for a bad attitude.
Takanoiwa, 27, did not take part in the latest tournament due to his
injuries, which the sumo association said included a fractured skull
"I think it is my duty as a senior wrestler to correct and teach
junior wrestlers when they are lacking in manners and civility,"
Harumafuji said. "But I went too far," he said, adding that the
commotion was not alcohol-fuelled.
The incident has highlighted sumo's struggle to reform harsh
conditions that can breed violence in its closed, hierarchical
world, although some wrestlers say there have been improvements in
the decade since a trainee was beaten to death.
"Sumo, recognizing its responsibility as the sport with the longest
history in Japan, must stamp out violence so that the expectations
of the people, including youth, are not again betrayed," Education
Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, whose ministry oversees sports, said in
a parliamentary committee meeting.
STRUGGLE WITH VIOLENCE
Former yokozuna Isegahama, the head of the gym where Harumafuji
trains and his mentor since he arrived in Japan at the age of 16,
told the news conference he had never seen the Mongolian engage in
violence and the incident was regrettable.
But he added: "He (Harumafuji) is the one who is most to blame for
harming the status of yokozuna. He shouldn't blame others."
The head of an advisory body to the JSA, the Yokozuna Deliberation
Council, had said this week the affair warranted "extremely harsh
punishment" but did not issue a final decision because both the JSA
and police were still investigating.
[to top of second column]
Mongolian-born grand sumo champion Yokozuna Harumafuji performs the
New Year's ring-entering rite at the annual celebration for the New
Year at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Japan January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Issei
"There is almost no doubting that an act of violence was carried
out," Masato Kitamura, chairman of the panel, told a news conference
after a council meeting on Monday.
"The general feeling within the council is that a strict
disciplinary measure is required," he added.
A former oyakata was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010 after
a court found he had ordered wrestlers to beat 17-year-old trainee
Takashi Saito, who had tried to run away, in 2007. Saito died from
Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu, who often found himself at odds with
sumo authorities over his behavior, quit the sport that same year
after a probe into reports of a drunken scuffle in Tokyo.
Those incidents and increased competition from other sports eroded
the popularity of sumo, in which giant wrestlers clad in silk
loin-cloths seek to topple, throw or push each other out of a raised
However, January's promotion of Japanese wrestler Kisenosato to
grand champion, the first home-grown yokozuna in 19 years, helped to
rebuild the sport's fan base.
Harumafuji, one of many Mongolian wrestlers to dominate sumo in
recent years, started his career in Japan at the age of 16 and was
promoted to yokozuna in 2012. He has won nine grand tournaments in
Reflecting on his 17-year career in sumo, Harumafuji said: "I really
love sumo. The way of sumo is not simply to be strong, but through
sumo... I wanted to inspire the people and give them courage and
hope."The assault affair has grabbed headlines since the news broke
earlier this month and on Wednesday was the second top news story on
public broadcaster NHK, after the launch of a North Korean ballistic
missile that splashed down near Japan.
Harumafuji's retirement leaves three active yokozuna, including
fellow Mongolians Hakuho and Kakuryu, with the former winning the
most recent grand tournament in Fukuoka to extend his all-time
record to 40 titles.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies; Editing
by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien)
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.