Sumo is a great sport. And as with any activity, there are a variety of risks involved. So, not to be hyperbolic, safety is ultimately all about reducing those risks. First Aid does not stop accidents from happening. They are just a series of procedures that help give the individual the best shot at recovery (or survival). Few of us who watched Takayasu writhe in pain last year, Kizakiumi’s dangerous fall, or any of the times that the big wheelchair is brought out, really feel that there is any process or standard procedure for dealing with any of these injuries.
Last week, Onaruto-oyakata was hit in the face (above) when two wrestlers tumbled off the dohyo. He was knocked backwards and did not move for several seconds. A few minutes later, he walked away back up the hanamichi to get treated. The tournament continued with only four shimpan until there was a shift chagne. It was later revealed he had suffered an eye injury and was treated at the sumo clinic. He has since returned to shimpan duties.
However, less than one week later, a very scary incident occurred involving a sandanme wrestler named Hibikiryu. Accidents happen. People fall awkwardly in sports or event in daily life. People fall while rock climbing, and ice skating, they fall off bikes, horses, or even when under stress on American Idol. A well-trained First Aid response can make a huge difference. While this experience would have been unexpected and very scary for those involved, I think we can have confidence in the treatment received by this American Idol contestant.
Kokugikan has a medical clinic. Yesterday, a doctor mounted the dohyo in consultation with the team of oyakata and yobidashi attending to Hibikiryu when it became apparent he would not be able to leave under this own power. But, I’m not sure if any of you can tell me who was in charge of the situation and I am very concerned by the fact that they did not stabilize his neck. I have read a witness account that Hibikiryu appeared to be speaking to those tending to him and may have asked to be turned over so that it would be easier to breathe. But that turn should have been performed very carefully with the assistance of several people.
It is acceptable to turn over someone with a spinal injury and may be quite necessary due to vomiting or difficulty breathing, as in this case. But do it carefully, usually with the help of four other people….but I admit, I don’t think they often think to train people on treating 150kg sumo wrestlers. That said, there are usually five former wrestlers surrounding the ring, four active wrestlers sitting around the ring, and several yobidashi.
I just think it could inspire a lot of confidence in the organization if there’s the same degree of planning and training present to help injured rikishi as is done before any JR train pulls out of a station. This is not about blame. I am not going to presume that prompt medical attention will always make a difference but prompt, competent attention will inspire confidence in the whole organization. We’ll never be able to eliminate the risk of serious injury. But we can provide those people who fall victim to tragic incidents with the best chance possible to get through it.
Hiring trained contractors is one route, but probably fairly expensive for a whole tournament. Rather, providing in-house training (such as the above) to NSK staff would not an insurmountable hurdle, especially as some staff are already CPR and AED trained. I mean, there is a clinic on the premises. With some foresight, this should be a relatively low-hanging fruit for modernization possibly career training for wrestlers after retirement, and certainly would help avoid scaring away fans…but most importantly for reducing the risks faced by every wrestler (and some of the bystanders).
Personally, I think the biggest hesitation is that it would require someone to be responsible for leading when such events happen. Who should it be? I have no idea and I don’t think it could be foisted on anyone involuntarily. And rather than trying to shame or blame and point fingers on the interwebs (that clearly doesn’t work as I’ve been apoplectic about this several times) I wonder what it would cost to get a plan going, and get some annual training, I would certainly contribute to that. Let’s get it done.