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Editorial: Sumo association board needs hasty revamp following scandal

The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) has come up with disciplinary measures against its grapplers and others concerned over former yokozuna Harumafuji's assault of a younger wrestler, which led to the grand champion's retirement in disgrace.

The association confirmed that Harumafuji deserved receiving a recommendation to retire for beating the lower-ranked wrestler, maegashira Takanoiwa, and slapped two yokozunas, Hakuho and Kakuryu, with salary cuts for failing to prevent the violence despite attending the same drinking session where the assault occurred.

It is only natural for the two yokozunas to be punished, in addition to Harumafuji, as the incident involved a group of grand champions who should act as role models for other sumo wrestlers.

The JSA has strived to prevent a recurrence of violence in the wake of the 2007 beating death of a junior grappler belonging to the Tokitsukaze stable. The association has regularly held training sessions for grapplers and stablemasters to instill them with the idea of eradicating violence and established a whistleblowing system through which wrestlers can reach out to lawyers.

Now that the latest assault case has happened, however, the difficulty in revamping the deep-rooted inclination toward violence among wrestlers is clearly visible.

According to the JSA's investigative report, the association is set to issue a declaration renouncing violence under the name of Chairman Hakkaku and introduce an "anti-violence day" as part of the main pillars of measures to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents in the future. The association, however, needs to be prepared to cut deeply into its organizational structure as well.

Grand sumo tournaments are part of traditional Japanese rituals as well as entertainment events of a strong public nature. That's why the JSA has been recognized as a public interest incorporated foundation eligible for tax breaks.

Untrue to its name, however, the association's handling of Harumafuji's scandal was far from serving the public interest. Instead, the JSA revealed vulnerabilities in its governance and the dominance of a sort of internal logic not commonly accepted by the general public.

One cannot help but call into question the adamant refusal by Takanoiwa's stablemaster Takanohana to allow the grappler to be questioned by the association. It is understandable that Takanohana is giving consideration to the police investigation as the stablemaster of the victim of the assault. However, Takanohana is a member of the JSA's board of directors and holds a responsibility to cooperate with the investigation.

The Yokozuna Deliberation Council, an advisory body to the JSA, declared that Takanohana's actions "deserve criticism." During an ensuing meeting of the JSA's board of directors, it was decided that any punishment of Takanohana would be postponed as the association had yet to question him. As Harumafuji's stablemaster Isegahama has stepped down as a JSA director, however, Takanohana must also face punishment, one way or the other.

The current state of affairs surrounding the JSA -- where its directors also double as stablemasters -- allows for the possibility of parties at fault and victims to share the same board of directors table, like in the Harumafuji scandal.

Evidently, the JSA should be run by individuals with little stake in each stable. Possible steps include staffing the board of directors mainly with former stablemasters if it needs to tap those versed in the sumo world, or even recruiting external staff. It's time to give a fundamental review of the relationship between the sumo association and the ranks of stablemasters.

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