Wednesday, May 13, 2020

young Sumo wrestler dies of Corona


It is a Sport very closely associated with its religious origins, and Shinto principles continue to govern the everyday life of its practitioners. The entering of the ring itself is a Shinto purification ritual. The match doesn’t start until both the participants  have placed both hands on the ground at the same time. Sometimes one  tries to psyche the other out, pretending to put his hand down and then getting back up again.   There are divisions – the entry is at the lowest level and one has to work their way to the higher division.  Based on the  ranks, they  receive different levels of compensation, privileges, and status including marriage.

It is ‘Sumo wrestling’.  Sumo (lit. "striking one another") is a form of competitive full-contact wrestling where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into touching the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet (usually by throwing, shoving or pushing him down). The sport originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally. It is considered a gendai budō, which refers to modern Japanese martial art, but the sport has a history spanning many centuries. Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, from Shinto.

Life as a wrestler is highly regimented, with rules regulated by the Japan Sumo Association. Most sumo wrestlers are required to live in communal sumo training stables, known in Japanese as heya, where all aspects of their daily lives—from meals to their manner of dress—are dictated by strict tradition.

From 2008 to 2016, a number of high-profile controversies and scandals rocked the sumo world, with an associated effect on its reputation and ticket sales. Despite this setback, sumo's popularity and general attendance has rebounded due to having multiple yokozuna (or grand champions).  Arising out of scandals,   Japan’s sumo wrestlers were to  face questioning by outside investigators after a series of incidents tipped the sport into crisis. The move followed  the most high-profile case of sumo grand champion Harumafuji, 33, who was forced into retirement and later fined for attacking a junior-ranked wrestler during a drinking session while on tour of regional Japan late last year. Another wrestler hit the headlines for allegedly crashing a car while driving unlicensed, while a senior referee became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. The scandal involving Harumafuji, who carried the highest rank of “yokozuna”, received wall-to-wall coverage in Japan in November. It attracted the attention of the sports minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, who called for the eradication of violence among athletes.

Aware of the sport’s worsening image problems, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko did not attend the flagship new year sumo tournament in Tokyo for the first time in four years. Also in January, a former sumo apprentice reportedly launched legal action against a retired wrestler and stablemaster seeking damages over a previously unreported assault.

Now comes a sad incident of death arising out of Corona.  A 28-year-old Japanese sumo wrestler infected with the virus has died, the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) has announced, the first in the sport to fall victim to the virus. Shobushi, whose real name is Kiyotaka Suetake, died from multiple organ failure caused by the virus.

He had been the first sumo wrestler to test positive for the virus on 10 April, said Kyodo News. His condition quickly worsened and he entered intensive care nine days later. According to a report by Yomiuri News, around 1,000 members of the JSA will have to undergo a virus antibody test - the first large-scale testing event to be held in the Japanese sporting world. Last month, the JSA announced that a stablemaster and five other sumo wrestlers had tested positive for the virus.

Shobushi first suffered from a 38C fever on 4 April. His stablemasters - highly respected sumo coaches - have said they initially struggled to get through to the public health office on the phone, or to get a hospital to treat him. He was eventually admitted to hospital in Tokyo on 8 April, after his fever would not subside and he started coughing blood. A virus test came back negative. The next day, his condition worsened and he was transferred to another hospital. On 10 April, he finally tested positive for the virus. Nine days after this, his condition deteriorated and he was brought into intensive care.

On Wednesday, the 28-year-old died in hospital at midnight. It is not known if he suffered from any underlying health conditions. According to Yomiuri quoting the health ministry, Shobushi is likely the first person in their 20s to have died from the virus in Japan. A large majority of virus victims in Japan are above age of 50. Shobushi, who made his professional debut in 2007, ranked 11th in the sport's fourth-tier division, known as Sandanme. Tributes have now poured in for the young wrestler.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
13.5.2020.


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