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Harumafuji's assault-related retirement shows JSA's lack of governance

Harumafuji is seen at a press conference relating to his retirement in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Nov. 29, 2017. (Mainichi)

The retirement of yokozuna Harumafuji on Nov. 29 over his alleged assault of fellow wrestler Takanoiwa in October has underscored a lack of governance within the Japan Sumo Association (JSA).

Minister of State for Special Missions, Hiroshi Kajiyama, highlighted the problem during a post-Cabinet meeting news conference on Dec. 1, saying, "We are currently paying close attention to governance within the association."

The JSA touched on the assault in an interim report released on Nov. 30. However, the body is coming under fire over its failure to settle the ongoing chaos, which came on top of other controversial incidents in the past.

Since becoming certified as a public interest incorporated foundation, the JSA has benefitted from preferential treatment such as tax exemptions on revenue received from tournament ticket purchases. Yet the sumo world has been mired in scandals in recent years, including the death of a junior wrestler due to assault at the Tokitsukaze stable in 2007, and match-fixing in 2011.

One of the conditions for the JSA's certification was that it would maintain proper governance. The JSA has tried to satisfy this condition in various ways, such as by creating a whistle-blowing system for assault -- but once again, an assault appears to have taken place.

There have also been cases of misalignment within the association, as highlighted by stablemaster Takanohana's refusal to allow Takanoiwa, 27, to take part in questioning by the JSA regarding the assault scandal. Additionally, 32-year-old yokozuna Hakuho -- who was present during the alleged assault -- stated, "I don't want Takanohana to come on tour," further exposing a lack of governance.

Professor Hidenori Tomozoe of Waseda University points out that there is a need for JSA chairman Hakkaku and others to focus on the organizational structure of the JSA. "The sumo world has different norms and ethics to the rest of society. If it runs itself (without proper governance) there will be more cases of violence in the future," Tomozoe says.

In the case of judo, the Cabinet Office's Public Interest Commission made recommendations for improvement to the All Japan Judo Federation following a spate of revelations of problems including violence in 2013. While the commission is taking a wait-and-see stance toward the JSA, how far the sumo association will be able to demonstrate its commitment to preventing further controversial incidents such as violence in its final report remains to be seen.

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