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Editorial: Sumo world needs to eradicate violence, banish anti-foreigner sentiment

The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) is set to propose to its executive council that stablemaster Takanohana be dismissed as a director over his response to an incident in which then yokozuna Harumafuji assaulted Takanoiwa, who belongs to his stable, during a regional tour.

No JSA director has ever been sacked. If the punitive measures are implemented, it would be a harsh punishment for someone related to the victim of the incident. Regardless, Takanohana deserves such treatment because he failed to fulfill his obligation to report the incident to the JSA even though he is responsible for regional tours and prolonged the association's investigation into the case by refusing to cooperate.

What is worrisome is the anti-foreigner sentiment that has emerged, unrelated to former yokozuna Harumafuji's violent behavior and Takanohana's response.

Such trends became obvious after Mongolian-born yokozuna Hakuho, who won the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November, overstepped traditional protocol on the tourney's final day by telling fans that the sumo world would "clean itself up" and then asked spectators to give three rousing cheers.

Along with remarks defending Takanohana, comments that appear to incite nationalism are spreading online. A typical example of such is: "Sumo is Japan's national sport and foreigners don't understand what the national sport and Shinto ritual are really about."

Even comments disparaging Hakuho and all other Mongolian-born sumo wrestlers are beginning to spread.

There is no denying that stablemaster Takanohana's silence sparked speculation and gave the public the impression that he is in conflict with Mongolian-born wrestlers. It is also true that there were some problems with yokozuna Hakuho's behavior.

However, it is obvious that foreign wrestlers have contributed greatly to the growth of sumo, which is an important part of Japan's traditional culture.

Hawaiian-born Takamiyama, who entered the sumo world in the 1960s when the JSA was reluctant to accept non-Japanese nationals as wrestlers, was the first foreign national to become a professional sumo wrestler and helped internationalize sumo.

Yokozuna Asashoryu, Hakuho and other Mongolian-born wrestlers have supported the sumo world in recent years when the popularity of the sport declined because of baseball gambling and bout-fixing scandals involving wrestlers.

It is true that nationalism can excite fans in various sports, but these recent trends are worrisome.

The core of the problem lies in violence. The JSA has worked to prevent physical abuse since a wrestler in the first non-salaried division of the professional sumo ranking list was fatally beaten by senior wrestlers during a training session in 2007. However, the latest incident has shown that although violence is impermissible -- something that should be common sense -- this idea has not taken root in the sumo world. The mistaken notion that physical abuse is part of training and education had not been completely wiped out.

Both the JSA and stablemaster Takanohana should swiftly settle the matter and the association as a whole should work to eliminate violence.

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