The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee (or Council – YDC in short) convened earlier today for its regular post-basho meeting. The meeting took place in Tokyo, at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
The meeting was longer than the usual, and included a briefing from the head of the NSK (Hakkaku) and other attending oyakata about the state of the Harumafuji investigation currently being conducted by the NSK’s crisis management committee.
Following the meeting, the head of the YDC, Masato Kitamura, held a press conference, and made the following statements:
- Regarding the kyujo Yokozuna, Kakuryu and Kisenosato, the YDC wishes to see them take care of their health and attend the next basho in good form. Although Kitamura said that continuing the current situation casts doubt on their ability to maintain their status as Yokozuna, many voices in the YDC said that the Yokozuna should be allowed to rest as much as they need and that they should not need to end their reigns. (Edited to include the two conflicting messages).
- Kitamura was very critical of Hakuho’s yusho “interview”:
- The three “banzai” cheers were uncalled for. In the middle of a crisis in the world of sumo, and after his behavior in the match vs. Yoshikaze, there was no occasion to cheer.
- Implying that there was a festering wound in the sumo world that “needed to be cleansed” is “strange”, and not something that a Yokozuna should say.
- Promising to bring back Harumafuji and Takanoiwa as if it’s something within his power is also uncalled for.
- Although it is not within the scope of the YDC’s responsibilities, he decided to comment about Takanohana’s behavior: “It is inexplicable. What is he trying to do? It seems as if he is trying to throw a spanner into the NSK’s investigation.”
Of course, the main issue of the press conference was the Harumafuji affair. Regarding that, Mr. Kitamura explained that as the NSK has not completed its investigation, the YDC is deferring its official recommendation until that investigation is done, at which point they will convene an irregular meeting to deliberate and make a recommendation.
However, he added that as it was undeniable that a violent act did take place, all the members of the YDC were unanimous in their outrage, and said that Harumafuji should be “dealt with with utmost severity”. He added that the YDC has several possible recommendations in its arsenal, from warning through an advice to retire, but “currently we do not know which level we will choose”.
In theory, the YDC does not have any real power. It makes recommendations to the management of the NSK, and the NSK can decide whatever it wants.
However, other than general, non-actionable advice such as “get well and come back quickly” such as they have given above to Kisenosato and Kakuryu, the YDC’s “action item” recommendations are generally respected.
Of course, most of the precedents involve recommendations regarding promotions to Yokozuna rather than retirement advice. The YDC has blocked some expected promotions in the past for various reasons and those blocks have been respected.
There have not been many precedents for retirement deliberations. Sponichi (a Japanese news outlet) came up with only three precedents, two of which are not really pertinent:
- Onokuni, in 1989, was make-koshi in the Aki basho. This is considered to be a cause for retirement for any Yokozuna. However, the recommendation they gave his stablemaster was that he should “get himself together, concentrate on practicing, and become a strong Yokozuna”.
- In 1999, the third Wakanohana was makekoshi in the Aki basho. Again, the YDC did not recommend retirement but called him in and asked him to take care of his injuries and come back to the dohyo for a decisive basho. Following two kyujo he decided to participate, and retired after losing going 2-4.
- Asashoryu’s drunken violence was the first and only time the YDC has decided to issue a recommendation of retirement to a Yokozuna. However, Asashoryu handed his resignation on his own initiative before that recommendation was made official.
When they say that “Harumafuji should be dealt with with utmost severity”, the YDC does not leave much room to believe that once the investigation is over they will be lenient. In fact, it sounds as if they have made up their minds already, and are only waiting for the NSK’s conclusions out of politeness.
And once that recommendation is formally made, if the NSK ignores it, it will be unprecedented and extraordinary. The NSK has the power to expel, dismiss, suspend or warn a rikishi. But if the YDC decides that a Yokozuna no longer has the “hinkaku”, if he does not hand in his resignation on his own as Asashoryu did, I cannot see how the NSK could justify keeping him as Yokozuna.
What about Hakuho’s vow, then? He wants to keep Harumafuji around. But I can hardly see how he can achieve that. I cannot see him convincing the members of the YDC to be less harsh, as you can see in the statements above he does not have any friends there. It’s an arch-conservative body, and one not known to be very friendly to foreigners, no matter how many yusho they have won.
In the NSK the situation is not much better. There are many conservatives in the NSK, and there was even a quote today from a “veteran oyakata” saying that there should not be Mongols in sumo. If Hakuho wants something unprecedented and extraordinary like ignoring the YDC to be done, the “reformers” may be his only potential allies. Only… the head of the reformers is Takanohana. Exactly the wrong man.
In western sports we might have expected him to try and arrange a wrestler strike or something similar. But this is unheard of in sumo.
In summary, I believe that the statement “to be dealt with with utmost severity” has pretty much clinched Harumafuji’s fate. The results of the investigation may be less severe than we thought at first. He may not face charges if he only used his bare hands. The fans may be able to forgive him. But the chances that we will see him on a dohyo ever again are vanishingly small.