How the pandemic lifted the lid on the ‘Darwinian world’ of Japan’s sumo
washingtonpost.com -- Jan 24
Japanese sumo wrestler Kotokantetsu was uneasy. Coronavirus was raging through Tokyo and ripping through the sumo wrestling fraternity, whose lives are controlled by trainers and handlers.

One wrestler died in May after struggling to get prompt medical attention. At least 23 more have tested positive in recent weeks, including Japan's top wrestler, Hakuko, who was released from hospital earlier this month, according to media reports.

Kotokantetsu, 22, who underwent a heart operation a few years ago, knew he was in the high-risk category, and asked his “stablemaster” if he could sit out this month’s tournament in Tokyo on health grounds.

The reply: Compete, or leave the sport forever.

“I was absolutely devastated,” he said in a tearful YouTube video after announcing his decision to quit.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed so many weaknesses around the world, from poor governance to the pervasiveness of conspiracy theories; from inequality to inadequate care for the elderly.

It also has forced scrutiny into some long-shielded corners of society. In Japan, one place the curtain has been pulled back is the centuries-old and deeply conservative domain of sumo wrestling — and it has revealed some harsh truths about the hardships faced by all but some of the top competitors.

Japan’s New Year Grand Sumo tournament will wrap up Sunday. Despite a state of emergency imposed to curb an explosion in coronavirus cases in Tokyo, around 5,000 spectators are still being allowed to attend each day, reflecting Japan’s determination to keep spectator sports alive ahead of the Olympics this summer.

But at least 65 wrestlers have been forced to pull out after either catching the virus or coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive, the sumo association said.

- washingtonpost.com


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