Two oyakata positive for COVID in pre-basho screening

A few days back, the NSK, via spokesperson Shibatayama, announced that it will hold global screening for COVID-19 prior to the basho, as it did in January.

The support staff (gyoji, tokoyama, yobidashi etc.) were tested first, and turned out negative.

Today the results came in for the oyakata and the rikishi. While all rikishi were thankfully negative, two oyakata were found positive.

  • Otowayama oyakata, former Tenkaiho, of Onoe beya
  • Onogawa oyakata, former Kitataiki, of Yamahibiki beya

Those of you following the NSK’s official YouTube channel will recognize these as two of the pillars of the “oyakata channel”, in charge of the more lighthearted videos and live commentary.

Onoe beya has announced on its Facebook page that it has been instructed by the NSK to go kyujo for Haru basho. It is still unclear at the time of writing whether the same has been decreed for Yamahibiki beya. This apparently depends on whether Onogawa oyakata has spent time at the heya in recent days.

Neither heya has any sekitori. The most familiar faces from Onoe beya are Ryuko and Hokutenkai, while Yamahibiki beya is home to Kitaharima.

Neither oyakata has shown any symptoms, and we wish the case will end there – with no symptoms, no after-effects, and no further chain of infections.

COVID news: 8 new cases appear, Tokitsukaze punishment

Two news items from earlier today are related to the pandemic.

Eight new cases in heya

A few days ago, we have reported that 6 rikishi tested positive at an undisclosed heya. At the time, all the others were tested as well but were negative. However, several of those previously negative have developed symptoms such as a high fever. As a result, a new test has been conducted and 8 additional rikishi were found positive, bringing the number of infections in that heya to 14 in total.

None of those infected is a sekitori, and therefore the names and the heya are undisclosed.

Tokitsukaze oyakata’s punishment decided

We have previously posted that Tokitsukaze oyakata has been caught on camera breaking COVID regulation repeatedly during Hatsu basho, and handed in his resignation. The NSK did not accept it immediately, and waited for the Compliance Committee to investigate the matter. That committee has completed its investigation and handed in a report a few days ago, recommending that the oyakata retire. In an extraordinary meeting of the board today, they have decided to issue an official “recommendation to retire”, and additionally, reduced Tokitsukaze’s severance pay by 30%.

The Tokitsukaze name, together with the heya, will transfer to Magaki oyakata, the former Tosayutaka, freeing the Magaki kabu. This was not an arbitrary selection, but rather the consensus at which the ichimon arrived as soon as Tokitsukaze made up his mind to retire.

New COVID-19 outbreak in a heya – 6 rikishi positive

The NSK announces that 6 rikishi, all Makushita or below, have been found positive for COVID-19. Because none are sekitori, their names and the heya were not disclosed.

One rikishi had a high fever yesterday, and when tested, was found positive. Following that, the other members of the heya were tested as close contacts, and 5 additional rikishi were found positive. Those 5 do not have symptoms.

The case has been reported to the local health authority, and the rikishi, who are currently isolating at the heya, will be sent to hotels or care at a hospital according to the local policy.

In an interview to the press, Shibatayama oyakata added that this does not affect the combo practice planned to start on the 20th. The rikishi participating in the combo practice will be tested on the 19th.

We wish all involved a quick and full recovery.

Tokitsukaze oyakata hands in resignation over flagrant COVID regulation violation

Shortly after Hatsu basho has been over, a Japanese tabloid published preliminary information, revealing that Tokitsukaze oyakata (former Tokitsuumi, 47) has been going out of the heya during the basho, to various destinations, including 5 consecutive days at a Mahjong parlor, and various excursions to less reputable establishments.

While in normal times such conduct may have raised at most some outraged voices from the more conservative section of society, doing so in the middle of a pandemic, against explicit guidelines, was not likely to pass quietly. Moreover, this is his second offense, after he went golfing in Miyagi prefecture before Aki basho – a violation which cost him a demotion by two ranks.

The crisis management committee has taken up the story, and the compliance committee has started an investigation following a hearing. Following the investigation, the procedure is to hand the recommendations to the board, which would hold a meeting and decide on a proper punishment. This punishment is expected to be severe, under the circumstances.

Yesterday, when interviewed by Nikkan Sports, the oyakata was still attempting to provide alternative explanations about his actions (saying, for example, that he did visit the Mahjong parlor, but not to play Mahjong but to give them tickets to the basho). However, at around the same time, the aforesaid tabloid started releasing more information, including photos. This may have been what drove the oyakata to hand in his resignation on January 27, stating his resolve to take responsibility.

Current expectation is that the NSK will hold on to the resignation papers until after it completes the investigation and punishment procedure. Of course, keeping precedents like Abi and the former Shikimori Inosuke in mind, it’s not a certainty that the resignation will be accepted immediately or at all.