Possible COVID-19 Infections at Sumo Stable and NSK

As Herouth has reported on Twitter, the NSK will have a press conference on April 9 to provide more information about a possible outbreak of the novel corona virus within the sumo world.

The timing of this is quite the coincidence as your correspondent has just returned home from a two week hospitalization due to COVID-19, so I would like to add a bit of perspective about what they may be going through, some best and worse case scenarios for impact to the sumo world, as well as to highlight some issues and how it may impact their care.

I enjoyed the last week of the Osaka basho isolated upstairs in bed (to protect my family who have thankfully shown no signs of infection) with a fever, head ache, cough, and some of the other more unpleasant symptoms. But just after senshuraku an intense, bloody coughing fit left me no choice but to head to the ER. From there, my experience roughly matches what I’ve been reading about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: supplemental oxygen in the ICU but thankfully no need for one of those rare ventilators.

Heya Healthcare

Obviously, not all COVID-19 infections require hospitalization and quite adequate care can be provided at home. In the sumo world, that means the stable. The facilities of a stable may not allow for complete isolation of even one wrestler, much less multiple affected rikishi. If not successfully isolated, I fear there will be a higher risk that the infection will spread throughout the stable over the next few weeks. However, if the wrestlers/staff are successfully isolated, it may be possible to contain the outbreak.

We’ve also been a bit critical of the healthcare provided to rikishi, mostly regarding the alarming speed with which many wrestlers return to action and the shocking lack of care provided to those who suffer major injuries on the dohyo. However, in the case of the corona virus, the NSK handled the Osaka tournament well and acted swiftly to cancel jungyo events and more recently to put an end to degeiko. Will they be able to manage this illness? If the May tournament happens, will they provide relief in rank to any rikishi who must go kyujo?

What I hope to learn from tomorrow’s press conference is, aside from the number of rikishi/staff affected, how does the stable or the Kyokai propose to isolate those who are infected? Will they try to isolate them at the heya, or perhaps the Kokugikan clinic, or more likely at a hospital (regardless of the seriousness of the infection). If a mild infection is treated at a hospital, I do think that would be a waste of resources because the demands on caregiver time and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are considerable. Nurses come in to check vital signs and provide food, etc, and must dispose of the top layer after each visit to each patient. If a mild case could be successfully isolated at the heya it would reduce the strain on local hospitals which may soon need to deal with rising infection rates among the general public, especially as sumo wrestlers would likely come in with special needs and possible underlying health problems.

Can Tokyo Prevent A Crisis?

Though the Abe government declared a State of Emergency, the calls for people to stay home may be less effective without legal enforcement behind it, especially when dealing with public transit. One of the many tragedies in the case of New York City is the number of infections and deaths among public transportation workers. 41 employees of the Metropolitan Transit Authority have died with another 1500 sickened. The MTA encompasses not only their bus and subway networks but the Long Island Railroad and Metro North Commuter systems. There is a fear that the Tokyo metropolis will see its own New York City-level crisis soon. In response, the authorities are stepping up enforcement of Social Distancing in public transit, and Japan may find it will need to actually enforce some of these voluntary restrictions.

So, if Tokyo is unable to contain its infection rate, the number of serious COVID-19 cases could rise dramatically while the infection simultaneously works its way through the sumo world. It’s this worst case scenario that I fear will lead to the cancellation of multiple basho. The Kyokai handled the Osaka tournament so well, allowing the show to go on but preventing infections. At this point, though, it will not just come down to what the NSK does but what the Japanese and Tokyo governments do to combat the crisis.

Social Distancing vs Social Isolation

Another common complaint in the sumo fan world recently has been the social media ban and I really hope they relax this ban for impacted wrestlers. Isolation is a difficult issue for any potential COVID-19 patient. While much of the world is practicing Social Distancing, the care of COVID patients really requires isolation to prevent this nasty virus from spreading throughout the heya.

Mentally, though, such solitary confinement is quite lonely. I must say, I quickly grew tired of video games, reading repetitive, depressing news, playing the guitar, standing idly by the window, etc. Interacting with readers, friends and family on social media was a huge morale boost. I cannot emphasize enough how connected and *normal* this simple interaction made me feel. I hope rikishi are allowed the same connection which goes beyond the usually brief interaction of friends and family members. While we may chat with our best friend on the phone for a few minutes each day, it’s much easier to get lost for hours on Social Media.

Obviously, update to come after the NSK press conference.

20 thoughts on “Possible COVID-19 Infections at Sumo Stable and NSK

  1. This is one of my Biggest fears for Japan as a whole let alone the Rikish and those with them. Japan though was putting in orders, the civilization was not taking it very seriously ( like the U.S. ) It’s government was slow to react and is not doing enough even now as it is. Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world in terms of age and for all their amazing advancements, they are SEVERELY unprepared for an outbreak on the level of other countries. Considering how small the country is and how tight many living spaces are, The fact they have been testing for the Virus by asking about symptoms and taking temperatures. To which the Virus spreads A-symptomatically, There is no telling how far this spreading has gone.

    given all that Japan could be on the edge of an Outbreak that rivals or Surpasses The U.S. and death tolls that will eclipse Italy. I greatly fear it’ll take many rikishi from us if it breaks out around them. Rikishi are amazing athletes but not overly healthy in many cases. The increased size / Weight of many of them already can make breathing more difficult. They can easily suffer from minor heart issues and other things like Diabetes many times without knowing it. As much as I love sumo, they need to cancel the next basho at the VERY least… which the only good outcome from it is injured Rikishi might get a chance to heal. If thee don’t they are risking making this even worse then it is.

    In the U.S. ALL sports are shut down, Anything not Essential is shut down, if Japan does not start enforcing this. If the NHK does not close down the Basho’s…. I don’t even want to think about it…..

    Just, glad you’re okay Andy.

  2. First thing first…it is a HUGE relief to hear that you’re on the mend, my fellow Tar Heels fan! Thanks for the letting us know that you have experienced the COVID infection firsthand, and starting to get better. I’m sure your wife, family and friends were PRAYING like crazy for a complete recovery.

    Secondly, this is distressing news. I was hoping that that no one would get affected among the rikishi…but as others have commented in the past on this blog…with the daily training among fellow deshi, interacting with the public, or whomever…it was bound to happen, right? Reality sets in once again. It was just a matter of time. And just my opinion, y’all…the upcoming May basho SHOULD be CANCELED.

    Thirdly, a BIG thanks to you and Herouth for reporting this. I hope all rikishi who are infected with the virus can get the PROPER care and heal as quickly as possible from this terrible, dreadful disease that has claimed so many lives around the world.

    Fourthly, I do wish all of Team Tachiai.org and the readers here to be SAFE & HEALTHY…wherever you are in the world. These are certainly worrisome times.

    • You too Bruce. When I saw this article, my first thought was, “There’s goes the May basho.” But you’re right.

  3. Sorry to hear you were struck down by the virus, but great news to that you’re back on your feet again.

  4. So glad things are looking up, and your family is OK. As you recover, you can always write things for us poor sumo-starved social distancers. We won’t be picky!

  5. Andy- here’s a thought- any chance you guys could do a podcast? Just talk about sumo, opinions, anything. The withdrawal is getting bad.

  6. Gkad to hear you’re on the mend, Andy, and that your family are well. Wishing you all the best.

  7. Thank you Andy – glad all is well with you and your family! Thank you Herouth – please stay well. Thank You
    Barry B. for your kind thoughts. Thank You All – Tachiai.org and All of the readers! I find inspiriation, knowledge and so much more from all of you. My thoughts of healing and best wishes to all!
    Please everyone stay safe!

  8. Andy, you must have been in dire peril to have been admitted to an ICU and given oxygen. Tachiai is a wellspring of joy for English-speaking sumo fans, yet how easily do some — myself included — take its continued production for granted! I celebrate your recovery from COVID-19 and send belated, heartfelt thanks to you, Bruce, Josh, Herouth, and the rest of the Tachiai team.

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