03/09/2020, 13.15
JAPAN
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Covid-19: no public at the Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka

The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament opened yesterday. Its matches will be broadcast by Japan’s public broadcaster. If a wrestler contracts the virus, the competition will be cancelled. Athletes must comply with strict health protocols. The last closed-door tournament took place in 1945.

Osaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan’s most popular sport is adapting to the coronavirus emergency.

The 15-day Spring Grand Sumo Tournament opened yesterday at the Edion Arena in Osaka; it is the first busho (tournament) to take place behind closed doors in 75 years.

When tickets went on sale, they were snapped up, with more than 7,000 spectators expected per day. However, on 29 February, the Japan Sumo Association (JSA), the sport’s governing body, decided to ban the public to prevent the Covid-19 epidemic from spreading.

As the only alternative was to cancel the competition, the JSA decided to go have the Japanese public broadcaster NHK cover the event. At the same time, the JSA said that it would cancel the tournament if a wrestler contracts the virus.

Yesterday, confusion and unease were visible on wrestlers’ faces as they made their entry into the arena. JSA president Hakkaku (formerly Nobuyoshi Hoshi) spoke in the middle of the dohyō (circular ring).

“We will make every possible effort to pull through the next 15 days, hoping the power of sumo provides courage and inspiration to people not only in Japan but also worldwide and helps bring peace and quiet back to the world,” he said.

Usually, the JSA chairman makes the opening speech of a tournament with yokozuna and wrestlers from the san'yaku, the three highest ranks below yokozuna, in attendance. As a show of unity, Hakkaku this time decided to bring all the wrestlers belonging to the top makuuchi division and stablemasters who are in charge of determining the rankings in the ring.

Athletes participating in the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament must comply with strict health protocols.

First, wrestlers cannot reach the arena by public transport. Yesterday, many shared a taxi, some arriving several hours before their bouts.

Re-entry into the arena is not allowed, so dressing rooms were crowded with assistants waiting for wrestlers’ arrival at certain times of the day.

Finally, medical staff have to check the body temperature of every wrestler each day.

No wrestlers asked to withdraw due to a fever on opening day. However, if one tests positive for COVID-19, the JSA will immediately abort the tournament.

On 26 February, the Japanese government asked sports and entertainment organisations to consider cancelling or postponing public events to help the authorities prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Big sumo tournaments take place every two months. Given the difficulty in rescheduling and finding a suitable venue, JSA said that it was impossible to postpone the spring tournament, this year's second competition.

The last cancellation of a major tournament dates back to March 2011, following a scandal over rigged matches.

The summer tournament of 1946 was cancelled because of delays in renovating the Ryōgoku Kokugikan Hall in Tokyo, damaged by Second World War.

During the war itself, a match in June 1945 was closed to the general public to allow the participation of injured war veterans.

(Photo credit: Asahi Shimbun)

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