One might think that a small coronavirus won’t do anything to a sumo wrestler. After all, the big, heavy men are not fat bags, but top athletes. Every day they train for hours by running at each other, bumping into each other, wrestling each other. After the sessions in the ring, they take in tons of calories from rice, vegetables and chicken. In Japan, where the sport originated thousands of years ago, there is hardly a sight that looks more sublime than that of a wrestler in the mawashi, the belt made of silk that the bulky wrestlers wear around their bare bodies.
This picture of power shows up again these days. The “Tokyo basho”, one of the six important tournaments in the calendar of the sumo season, has been running for two weeks since Monday. Japan has been in its third wave of infections in the pandemic for weeks, which is why the government obtained another lockdown on Thursday last week. People are supposed to stay at home in the evening and businesses are closed. But the strong types of sumo should still go into the ring to fight. And in the stands of the 11,000-seat arena Ryogokukan in the northern capital city center, even 5,000 visitors can watch it.
Because sumo is bursting with strength, toughness and invulnerability? That impression is far from it. Shortly before the start of the tournament, the national sumo federation announced that this time 65 wrestlers would have to stay away from the fights. In the sumo stall Arashio alone, twelve people tested positive for the corona virus at the beginning of the month. As part of a test campaign of all athletes, coaches and supervisors, several wrestlers from other teams were added. Above all, the current tournament is missing the wrestler Hakuho, who has dominated the sport for years and fell ill last week. Hakuho was immediately taken to the hospital.
In Japan these days one is not only wondering what a tournament victory means with such a decimated field of participants? In view of the health policy situation, doubts arise as to whether the event makes sense. In fact, this is especially true of the sport of sumo. Because even if the athletes are physically fit, their organs have to withstand special daily pressure due to the large abdominal girth. Last year in May, the first professional athlete to be infected with Covid-19 and to die was sumo wrestler Shobushi. Multiple organ failure as a result of pneumonia was given as the immediate cause of death.
But the sumo tournament, about which there is currently a lot of discussion in Japan, must also take place because anything else would send a bad signal. At the beginning of last year, when the pandemic was just spreading, sumo was one of the first sports to be canceled by those responsible in February. A month later, due to great public pressure, the Olympic Games in Tokyo had to be postponed by a year. If sumo, a discipline of strength and resilience, were given up again, skepticism about the summer games would probably rise again.
In the middle of the second lockdown, there are only six months left until the postponed Olympic Games are finally supposed to start in Tokyo. Despite the restrictions on everyday life, both Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the IOC continue to insist: “Tokyo 2021” will take place as planned. The most important precautions have been taken to ensure safe implementation.
This includes an urgent recommendation to the athletes to get vaccinated. In addition, viewers are to be tested for the corona virus directly before and after entry. The usual gatherings of sponsors, officials and dignitaries as well as other important people at the Olympic Games are to be reduced and the exit and party rules in the Olympic Village made stricter. “Safety is the top priority,” is what the organizing committee, in which the government is a participant, repeatedly hears.
The only difference is that the summer games are like the current sumo tournament. Many people in Japan ask themselves: does this really have to be? For months, surveys on the Olympics have shown that a majority of the Japanese population, who were only so enthusiastic about the Olympics, have become extremely suspicious. Most recently, a survey by the Kyodo news agency on Sunday showed that 80 percent do not want any games in the summer of 2021. You prefer a postponement or a complete cancellation. After the organizers hesitated for weeks over the past year to decide to postpone, many people in Japan feel that the scheduled staging of the world’s largest sporting event has been put above public health.
The 22-year-old sumo wrestler Kotokantetsu also had this feeling at the beginning of the week. After a heart operation, he had reported concerns to the association about his participation in the tournament in Tokyo. He fears that an infection with the coronavirus could be life-threatening for him. “The association said:› You can’t stay away from the tournament just because you’re afraid of the coronavirus, ‹” reports Kotokantetsu. After all, security measures have been taken. The wrestler explains on Twitter: “I only had the choice of participating or resigning.” He preferred to resign.