As Bruce did a great job of detailing, Harumafuji is in hot water for his role in potentially putting Takanoiwa out of action for quite some time and inflicting what may potentially be some degree of lasting damage to the head of his fellow rikishi. Much of the speculation, owing to the shocking nature of this incident and Harumafuji’s standing as a Yokozuna, has been around the subject of intai (by his choice or the association’s), what kind of punishment might be forthcoming, or what Harumafuji’s life will be like going forward.
But let’s not forget there is another side of this as well, and that’s the future of Takanoiwa’s career. Obviously, he has received extensive hospital treatment, and it’s unclear where and when we will see him functioning again on the dohyo as we have seen him function before. This passage from the Japan Times article on the scandal caught my eye:
Takanoiwa, 27, was one of the early withdrawals from the Nov. 12-26 tournament. He is expected to miss the entire meet and be demoted to the lower juryo rank at the meet in January.
It is certainly true that anyone kyujo from the entire tournament from the level of Maegashira 8 under normal injury circumstances would be demoted to Juryo. It has happened 14 times in the last 40 years and in the 9 of those times that the kōshō seido system was not applied, the rikishi concerned ended up ranked between J3 and J7 on the banzuke for the following basho.
However, these are not normal circumstances – and they also fall at a time when there have been renewed calls from luminaries of the sumo world (as well as, for what it’s worth, from these pages) to reconsider a reinstatement or a replacement for kōshō seido. While this isn’t a new thing (and you can find hot debates on sites like sumoforum about this, going back at least ten years), the increase in injuries certainly makes the conversation more relevant. John Gunning recently doubled down on the comments he made in the Japan Times regarding the size of rikishi during the NHK World Sumo Preview episode, the training regimen for fitness and injury recovery has been scrutinised in light of failed recoveries by key competitors, and the rigorous Jungyo schedule has not only strained the health of sekitori further but was the time during which the above incident occurred.
One should wonder then, whether special consideration will be given to Takanoiwa’s rank for Hatsu 2018 (if he is able to compete). After all, it is not like this was a normal injury caused on the dohyo or even the case of a clumsy accident at home: if the reports are correct, he was taken out of commission by an act of another rikishi for which there is an ongoing police investigation. If this special consideration to preserve Takanoiwa’s rank is given, could that then be a springboard to a new system that enables rikishi to get urgent appropriate medical attention in order to preserve their rank for even just one tournament?
There are no definitive answers to that latter question right now. But at a time when there’s seemingly nothing good coming out of this saga (the potential loss of a great – and sometimes also good – yokozuna’s career, a rikishi with potentially life changing injuries), the Association has an opportunity to reserve insult from injury. I, for one, hope they mark out this extraordinary circumstance, and allow Takanoiwa to resume his career in the division in which he has worked to establish himself over the past couple of years.