Mongolian sumo hulk fans flames of protocol row

AFP/File / Toru Yamanaka<br />Mongolian-born yokozuna, or grand champion, Hakuho performs during the ceremonial entrance to the ring, at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, on January 8, 2013
AFP/File / Toru Yamanaka
Mongolian-born yokozuna, or grand champion, Hakuho performs during the ceremonial entrance to the ring, at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, on January 8, 2013

Record-breaking Mongolian sumo wrestler Hakuho on Monday fanned the flames of a row over sumo etiquette as he denied breaching the ancient Japanese sport’s strict protocol with an outburst against officials.

Tokyo (AFP)
Peeved at being ordered to repeat a bout which had been too close to call, the hulking “yokozuna” (grand champion) let rip at the decision after surpassing the legendary Japanese wrestler Taiho to capture a 33rd Emperor’s Cup last month.
His victory prompted hand-wringing in sumo’s corridors of power as Mongolia’s stranglehold on the sport became official.
“We all have our own ideas and thoughts,” Hakuho told reporters Monday, declining to apologise for comments which triggered accusations that he, like pantomime villain Asashoryu before him, lacked the dignity required to hold sumo’s elite rank.
“All I was doing was giving my opinion, that’s all.”
Pressed to elaborate, he growled: “Sometimes in your heart there are things you can’t say.”
Jiji Press/AFP/File / -
Mongolian-born yokozuna, or sumo grand champion, Hakuho smiles in the dressing room after earlier securing victory in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo, on January 23, 2015
The press conference in Osaka was then brought to an abrupt halt when sumo officials whisked Hakuho away, fearful of further controversy.
“It’s a small spat and it’s going to be used by anti-Mongolian partisans to show that the Mongolians don’t have the “hinkaku” (dignity) necessary,” Japan-watcher Michael Cucek of Temple University Japan told AFP.
“The Mongolians are just better — they have taken the sport to a new level. They’re bigger, they’re stronger and their technique is better.”
What ought to have been a storm in a teacup was blown out of proportion, Cucek said, because Hakuho had erased Taiho — widely regarded as the greatest yokozuna of the post-war era — from the record books.
“It’s absolute dominance by the Mongolians of the yokozuna rank,” he added. “There are no Japanese yokozuna and there’s no outlook for one anytime soon. It’s sour grapes, no question. The Japanese don’t like foreigners breaking their records.
“Hakuho was just exasperated with not being given the benefit of the doubt and being forced to do a rematch. It’s customary that the higher-ranking (wrestler) is automatically presumed to have won if there’s a tie.”
- Gentle giant -
Many observers feel the 29-year-old Hakuho, hitherto seen as a gentle giant, should have bitten his tongue.
“He should have been more careful,” said long-time sumo commentator Doreen Simmons. “Obviously he shouldn’t have said it out loud. When it got out, he should have immediately apologised.”
Hakuho had earned praise from officials and local media for helping restore a sense of decorum to sumo following a series of scandals that tarnished the reputation of the roly-poly sport, which is said to date back some 2,000 years.
But the goodwill somewhat evaporated when he broke the mark Taiho had set between 1960 and 1971 — although Taiho himself was born to a Japanese mother and an ethnic Ukrainian father who had fled the Bolshevik revolution.
Japan has been without a native-born yokozuna since Takanohana retired in 2003.
“The ground is fertile for even the smallest thing to explode into a huge controversy,” said Cucek. “Hakuho has a right to be frustrated. He has been otherwise absolutely admirable. He’s been the anti-Asashoryu.”
Firebrand Asashoryu won 25 Emperor’s Cups before retiring in 2010 after being accused of breaking a man’s nose in a drunken brawl outside a Tokyo nightclub.
He infamously provoked a bathtub brawl with a rival and was banned for forging a doctor’s note for a back injury, only to be caught on camera playing football wearing a Wayne Rooney shirt.
Allegations of illegal betting and links with crime syndicates, drugs busts and the bullying death of a young wrestler have shaken the closeted world of sumo to its foundations in recent years.
Hakuho extinguished those fires almost single-handedly.
“I can see how Hakuho would hope that there would be some recognition of how much he has done,” said Cucek. “Maybe after six years of being the guy, he just blurted out: ‘People, do you know who I am?'”
© 2015 AFP
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