Japan’s sumo association said Monday (May 4) it would cancel its upcoming tournament and aim to hold the following one behind closed doors, as the country extended a state of emergency over COVID-19.
The next sumo “basho” or tournament had been scheduled to begin on May 24, after organisers of the nation’s ancient sport delayed the event by two weeks over the pandemic.
But chairman Hakkaku said in a statement that the association had decided to cancel the May tournament “in order to secure the health and safety of fans and people involved.”
The announcement came shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe extended a state of emergency over the virus until the end of May.
It is the first cancellation of a basho since 2011 when a spring sumo tournament was scrapped over a bout-fixing scandal. That was the first cancellation in more than half a century.
There are usually six tournaments across Japan each year, and the association said it “aims” to hold the July basho without spectators and would move the tournament from Nagoya in central Japan to Tokyo where sumo wrestlers are based.
The outbreak in Japan has been smaller than in many countries, with around 15,000 cases and 510 deaths confirmed so far, but the government declared a state of emergency in seven regions about a month ago and later expanded it nationwide.
A handful of low-ranking wrestlers and trainees as well as a stable master have tested positive for the virus.
The spring basho, held in March in Osaka, took place without spectators, with wrestlers surrounded by just a handful of judges in the empty arena.
But it was broadcast live on national TV, where viewers could hear sounds normally drowned out by the crowd, including wrestlers slapping their bellies and scraping their feet on the clay ring.
Some rituals were amended, including the traditional ladle of water that a winning wrestler offers to the next in the ring.
Photo: AFP/Charly Triballeau