Sumo: Temptations, commercial obligations drive injured sumo champ back into the ring
Japan Today -- May 18
One of the perks of holding the highest rank in professional sumo -- yokozuna or grand champion -- is that the title is so exalted, demotion to a lower rank due to poor performance is almost unthinkable.

Unlike those in the lower ranks, should a yokozuna be hobbled by injury or illness, he can choose not to take part in a tournament, or drop out midway, and even miss several consecutive tournaments (former yokozuna Takanohana sat out seven straight tournaments due to injury from 2001 to 2002) and still return to his position. On the other hand, should he suffer a string of humiliating defeats he would be obliged to announce his retirement.

There have also been situations when yokozuna failed to demonstrate sufficient hinkaku (dignity), as was the case in February 2010 with Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu, who was involved in a drunken brawl and allegedly injured a man -- although the details to this day have never been made public. While still at the peak of his career, Asashoryu was forced to retire and leave professional sumo.

Which brings us to the newest yokozuna, Kisenosato. After winning the New Year's tournament to gain promotion to the top rank, and then making a miraculous recovery from a badly injured left bicep to win the playoff match on the tournament's final day to take the championship, fans were overjoyed to see the local boy whack his Mongolian rivals and make good.

Prior to the start of the summer tournament on May 14, rumors flew that Kisenosato would announce a kyujo (non-participation), sitting out the 15-day tournament in order to give himself time to achieve a full recovery, while preparing for a comeback at the Nagoya tournament in July.

But to the fans' delight, Kisenosato marched into the ring on the first day, only to lose handily to a scrappy smaller rival, Yoshikaze. He lost again on Wednesday. It was clear that his left arm has not fully recovered. So why, asked Yukan Fuji (May 17), did he chose to compete?

The reason, the writer is convinced, is that Kisenosato faces a damned-if-you-do, damned-if -you-don't situation. For one thing, a huge amount of corporate prize money that is being offered for each bout he wins, and if he sits out the tournament, he would miss the chance to collect the all-time record number of kensho (packets of prize money carried home by the winner of a match).

News source: Japan Today
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