LETTER FROM TOKYO
The sumo tournament, which began on Sunday May 9, could see Terunofuji fulfill his dream. If he emerges as the winner, the wrestler of Mongolian origin could reach the supreme level of the hierarchy of this traditional Japanese practice by becoming the 73eyokozuna (great champion). “There is only one thing that I still have to live, and that is to become yokozuna”, Terunofuji told Daily Mainichi.
Despite the absence of spectators inside the Kokugikan in Tokyo – Japan being subjected to a new state of emergency to fight the Covid-19 pandemic – Terunofuji had a good start on May 12 with four victories in four fights .
The rikishi (fighter) has come a long way. After touching the summits of sumo in 2015, serious injuries and health problems kept him away from the dohyo (the combat area) for many months and caused it to tumble down the rankings. His victory at the spring tournament marked his comeback and rekindled his hopes of becoming yokozuna.
The light on Terunofuji would almost make one forget the death of Hibikiryu, victim on April 28 of an acute respiratory failure. The wrestler had been hospitalized since March 26, after a violent shock to the head during a fight during the spring tournament.
This disappearance embarrasses the sumo world. It could have been avoided if adequate measures had been taken at the time of the accident. After the shock, the 28-year-old wrestler remained for nearly five minutes unconscious on the dohyo, without care.
Traditionally during tournaments, the referees wait for the wrestlers to stand up on their own after a fall and there are no medics near the fighting era. When Hibikiryu was taken in, he was turned away by officials, not by trained doctors. He was transported without his head being immobilized, despite the risk of spinal injury.
After his death, the Japanese Sumo Association (JSA) responded by claiming “That a causal link between the wrestler’s death and his injury has not been established at this stage” : “On the issue of improving emergency medical procedures, we will announce something once a formal decision is made. “
The question is when, because medical management issues are not new to the ultra-conservative world of sumo. In January 2017, Musashikuni – the nephew of 67eyokozuna Musashimaru -, from the height of his 1.87 m and 145 kg, faced Tomisakae, 1.68 m for 110 kg. He completely knocked him out from the tachiai (the initial charge). However, no one rushed to help Tomisakae, who remained unconscious for long minutes. In May 2018, Hokutofuji suffered a violent shock to the head that stunned him. He was however allowed to resume the fight.
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