Haru Basho Update – COVID-19 May Impact March Tournament

In the past day, there has been a flurry of announcements and commentary around the status of the Osaka tournament, set to kick off in just about 10 days. As the Corona virus continues to multiply across several continents, an increasing body of evidence shows that the only way to slow down the spread of the disease is to limit or prevent human social interaction. While the video of the intense quarantine from China and specifically Wuhan has been shocking to western viewers, it seems that it has actually made a difference in slowing down the rate of infection. With an eye toward what China has done, Japan has started to cancel and postpone public events.

First this story from NHK, where Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has suggested that major sport, cultural and other events should be cancelled, delayed or scaled down for about two weeks. (Video at the link) Abe said, “Now is the crucial time to contain the spread of the virus at an early date.”

Next this twitter post from Tachiai contributor Herouth, stating what many at Team Tachiai suspected, that the NSK is starting to consider curtailing public involvement in Haru, and will meet March 1st to assess the risk to the public of a sumo tournament in mid-March.

An element that will figure into consideration is that Wakayama, adjacent to Osaka, is is an area that is of concern to the Health Ministry due to the number of people currently sick with the virus.

In response to Prime Minister Abe’s recommendation, Kyodo News reports that the Nippon Professional Baseball said Wednesday it will hold all 72 of its remaining preseason games behind closed doors.

Noted sumo commentator and former rikishi, John Gunning, writing for the Japan Times has suggested that calling off Haru would be the right move for the sumo association. In his article (always worth the read) he makes a number of excellent points.

At Tachiai, we are hoping that Haru will move forward in some format, even if we see the rather odd spectacle of competition with no spectators. I personally love the atmospherics that leak into the video feed, and having had the privilege of being present for several tournaments, nothing beats the crowd at these events. But given that many other sporting events are changing format in Japan to protect the public from infection, I suspect we may see the cancelation of Haru. Sumo fans around the globe now wait on the NSK’s special board meeting this Sunday, that will decide the fate of the Haru basho.

UPDATE – As Herouth posted just a few minutes ago to twitter…

Comments getting too heated, and too personal. I have tuned them off – Bruce

26 thoughts on “Haru Basho Update – COVID-19 May Impact March Tournament

  1. This sucks but what can you do? I understand completely if they decided to cancel but maybe that would be too extreme, the idea of having the tournament without an audience would be best, even if it will be weird.

    Feel bad for whoever wins (unless it’s a multiple time winner) as they won’t have a crowd cheering for them and watching them receive the cup.

  2. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Pretty much what i read out from the Gunning article. JSA elders will get a few more white hair. Though station.

  3. So I wanted to keep my personal comments out of the main piece. But I honestly think that once you do that math, Gunning is correct – they need to cancel the tournament. Given that COVID-19 can be asymptomatic for weeks, you may have a handful or rikishi who are currently incubating that virus. The virus spreads via aerosol, but can also spread through bodily fluids (sweat, saliva, etc). When you have two people smacking each other about, skin on skin, it’s a great chance to pass this little virus around.

    Now your average rikishi is going to probably just get a mild cold from the thing, but some of the really big guys like Kenho and Sakaefuji are probably nursing a variety of other medical conditions that could make them more likely to be in the group that would require hospitalization. The very last thing the NSK needs is public examination of their medical policies, given what we have seen in the past few years.

    But as sumo fans all know, the NSK is going to do exactly as it wishes, and an Edo period approach to life may carry the day.

    • I don’t think that this will be an NSK call. They are subordinate to the Ministry of Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology (MEXT). They, in turn, take direction from the Prime Minister’s Office. I worked with MEXT for many years. They are an efficient, risk averse operation. The Japanese government is much smaller and more integrated than US or Europe. I have little doubt that the next basho will be cancelled, maybe the May and July ones as well. This one is serious, folks.

  4. 1) Fans and wrestlers exposing each other ALL DAY for a fortnight is a recipe for disaster.
    2) If keiko is as intense as the real thing and is still ongoing, opportunities for rest may be overstated.
    3) If cancelled, I’m glad Goeido retired and didn’t try to hold out for a last performance in front of the home crowd.

  5. Fortunate there was no recent jungyo.

    Totally aside, I’m getting a weird error message today from this site. When I scroll to past articles, I get ‘Google Trends is blocked’, and my tab is cancelled. I have never seen this.

    • Thanks for letting us know, let me see if the web server has COVID-19 as a result of this posting.

  6. I have an idea that has been incubating (sorry) in my head. If the decision goes to having a tournament with no spectators, NHK should allow advertisements to offset the lost revenue. 100% of the revenue derived from said ads to be given to the JSA.

    • You do realize that as a state broadcaster NHK’s execs can’t just randomly alter the rules for how ads are allowed to be shown on their channels?

  7. Now is the time to cancel the Basho and let all the injured rikishi finally heal up. Frankly a basho is not a basho without spectators. Just cancel and get well.

    • I just don’t see that happening. From a numbers standpoint, I want to know which is the bigger source of injury:
      a) Honbasho,
      b) Jungyo,
      c) Keiko

      If keiko is as hardcore (100% effort, all Jordan, no Iversons) as advertized, they go through more at the keikoba than the raised dohyo and there may be LESS downtime than normal as there are fewer fan engagements and ceremonies.

      • Pretty much this. I’m frequently puzzled how many fans don’t seem to recognize (or maybe don’t want to acknowledge) that the rikishi injuries they get to see on TV are by far not the only ones these guys sustain.

        • You guys are totally not getting my point. I mean everything needs to go on complete social lockdown like in Wuhan. That means there are zero activities where people gather, including practicing; coronavirus is not to be screwed around with. Mongolia has no cases because they were totally ready – schools cancelled, folk dont gather together at all and most work has stopped or is done from home or individually. (Alternatively you are all welcomed to come to Cambodia where it is currently far too hot and dry for the virus to spread, even though infected Chinese travellers crisscrossed our country for weeks.) You are looking at this as a sporting inconvenience, rather than as a serious threat to life. By “Get well” I actually mean no new virus cases anywhere in country. Sumo is a social and ritual function of a healthy nation, just as lunar new year’s celebrations are in China and Korea. These were cancelled this year. Likewise all such activities need to cease until things are in right order. Daegu to Fukuoka is only a few hours travel by train and boat and it is spreading like wildfire on drought stricken grass there. This disease can literally decimate a society. Japan is finally treating this disease as their own problem rather than that of those folk on the boat problem. Everything should be cancelled until it is all clear.
          About a fifth of all the people I know are currently enduring a lockdown situation but they and i think it is likely saving their lives. It is absolutely not like some influenza because you can be carrying the disease and totally asymptomatic and spread it to others without even knowing you are ill. As such it must be treated as if anyone you might come in contact with could be possibly infecting you.

  8. two remarks to this topic:

    it seems very unlikely that in this climate of public – lets call it health concern – the basho can take place as planned, with spectators. so either a plan b – basho takes place in an empty arena, or a plan c – complete cancellation of the event, has to be expected.
    i am living in austria. we had so far two (2) confirmed covid-19 cases. both are healthy again. and we have currently some 110.000 confirmed cases of influenca. the death toll rate of the two virus types seems to be quite similar. i am mentioning this, because it seems that a kind of worldwide media hype and political paranoia is disturbing the pragmatic view on the real situation. today a vienna school was blocked by health authorities for hours, with several hundreds of pupils locked inside, because one teacher had fever. it turned out as influenca. so now its 110.001 …

    • The death rate for Coronovirus is over 2% while standard influenza hovers around 0.1%. While those seem very similar, it is in fact 20 times deadlier. 1 in 50 versus 1 in 1,000.

      Also importantly and unlike the flu, something like an estimated 5%-10% of cases require professional medical assistance to survive.due to respiratory issues. If it spreads like the flu does, it seems likely the death rate will increase due to the burdens on medical supplies etc.. (Nonetheless I realize it is not SARS deadly or such and the rate would likely never be near that even if it went extremely widespread.)

      • sorry, i disagree.
        based on facts.
        – according to world health organisation about 10-20% of the world population are affected by influenca every year. this is a real pandemia. since many years. without special media attention.
        – influenca death rate depends on the virus type, which is different every year. in 2018, with a very aggressive virus type, the death rate of infected patients in germany was more than 8%. despite wide spread vaccination!
        – medical analysts worldwide agree that the corona-cases so far are much too small to be statistically significant. the number of undetected cases, most with lesser or no symptoms is certainly much higher than the (publicly) reported ones. so the statistical death toll rate is expected to decrease substantially.

        i do not intend to marginalise this virus. but its just another influenca-like virus type. marginally spread. and should be handled by health authorities accordingly. with the necessary professional care, but not with this erratic media panic and political overreaction, which we currently witness.

          • could well be you don’t like facts – looking forward to your counter-arguments. just polemics is a bit weak. cheers.

            • There is an interesting article in The Atlantic dated 24 Feb. Makes a good case that this version of the corona virus has the characteristics which make it likely to become endemic (part of every cold and flu season).

              In other words, something that we’ll have to get used to living with for years to come. I’m not trivializing the impact on those who families who suffer tragic consequences.

          • I am curiously waiting your counter argumets but it is most probably will be similar like Waiting For Godot.

        • 100% agreed it is way more over reacted causing tremendous economical problems. this is not plague, colera or ebola where such measurements would make sense…

        • Look, I hope you are correct in your assessment that it is over hyped and not a big deal.

          I (and probably anyone else who doesn’t already agree with you) is unlikely to be convinced when you start with an unnecessarily snarky opening. (I realize this applies to other people in this thread, and I’m only really furthering this discussion because I liked when Tachiai was a friendly chat place and I’m gonna do my part to push that. And also I like logic for fun.)

          We both asserted facts. No reason really ever to just trust someone online so both ways may as well border on unproved opinion. I generally try to research info. You may too. But how could we each know?

          That said, I’d think we could agree that as currently calculated the rate of death is considered to be approximately what I stated, based upon what we know to date, that’s a fact as described herein. I didn’t just make it up.

          Is it the best fact? You’re point that it may be statistically insignificant number could be valid as could the argument that the occurrence of low impact cases going unreported has tainted the overall data. That said, to assert that these issues HAVE impacted the data appear to be speculation from where I’m sitting. (though it may not be…) You’ve provided no hard evidence for these, only a seemingly rational argument, but one hinged to an implausible statement based upon an argument from authority. “Medical analysts worldwide agree…” I’m not sure how you reached a conclusion regarding what worldwide medical analysts think. (I don’t take issue with medical experts authority, but rather the authoritative assertion that they all agree.

          The WHO and CDC seem very concerned from what I’ve read. Also universities have already started to look at the stats. http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/02/study-72000-covid-19-patients-finds-23-death-rate
          Admittedly, I did not look into their methodology beyond this page. And again, I hope you’re right.

          Less compelling is your post’s cherry picking ‘best (in this case, worst) case scenario’ example isn’t going to be convincing. The Germany situation you cited seems like an outlier. Certainly worthy of news when it was happening.

          That all said, again one more time, I hope you’re right. For everyone involved.

          And also selfishly so I can a) watch sumo soon and b) still take my upcoming planned trip to Austria and the rest of Central Europe.

  9. Just an update, J league games have been canceled till mid march, baseball preseason games all will happen without audience and now, big spoiler … today Abe-san himself announced that schools … and that means all schools contrywide … will close for the whole of march (the last two weeks are holidays anyways). Would be rather surprising, if the basho wasn’t canceled.

  10. Small update, Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios in Osaka announced today that they are closing down from tomorrow till march 15th. I was only half able to follow the news, but I think also Ueno Zoo,
    the Aquarium in Shinagawa and some other places like that were mentioned to be shut down.
    It seems literally impossible now that the Osaka Basho is going to happen, at least with spectators. No idea if they would hold a tournament behind closed doors.

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