Much to the delight of the sumo world, the Haru Basho was able to go all 15 days without being canceled due to a rikishi contracting COVID-19. Before the start of the tournament, I went on record saying that I thought they would not make it past day 9, but I was thankfully wrong. The stables broke camp in Osaka, and retreated to Tokyo. With the spring jungyo tour canceled, the rikishi have 6 weeks to train, and where needed, heal up. Given the way that Japan in general and the heya specifically work, it is possible to sequester an entire sumo stable, as we saw in Osaka. While this limits the risk of contracting the virus, we can assume the risk is not zero.
But fans are wondering (Team Tachiai including) what the plan is for the remaining 4 tournaments in the 2020 calendar year. We have already witnessed the unprecedented 1 year delay in the summer Olympic Games, scheduled for Tokyo 2020. One indication was the sumo association departing from tradition (Hey, it can happen!) by not putting the Natsu tickets on sale immediately following the conclusion of Haru in Osaka. It would seem that the Japan Sumo Association, along with the rest of the world, do not expect things to be quite back to normal yet in mid May. We think there are a few options that make some degree of sense.
- Cancel the remaining tournaments of 2020 – The most drastic action would be to cease public competition. This would allow the NSK to focus on rikishi health and safety, and preserving the talent in place today. New recruits would have a long period of time to train and prepare for their first basho. This would absolutely devastate the association and the stables financially, as it would continue to isolate the supporter groups and fan clubs from interacting (a source of revenue) with the stables. I think this option would be the most unlikely.
- Only conduct the 2 remaining Tokyo tournaments – This would allow the stables and the association to eliminate any infection risk from travel to venues in Nagoya and Kumamoto, while still providing sumo to the public. The logistics of picking up the stables and re-homing them in distant cities would eliminated, but the number of tournaments remaining in 2020 would be cut in half. The time between them would pace out to 3½ months each, giving the rikishi a lot of time to train and heal. The net effect would be something that many readers here have expressed a strong desire to see – more time between competition for rest, recovery and improvement. Subsequent tournaments would be conducted under the same rules as Osaka – no public, but ample TV coverage. This would still be a financial blow the the association and the stables, as the sequestration of the rikishi would necessarily continue.
- Conduct the remaining 4 tournaments in Tokyo – This would allow the NSK to keep their schedule and their TV commitments, but would remove the logistical need (with its associated risk) of moving the stables to Nagoya and Kumamoto. There would be some impact to those host cities, but it is possible that could be dealt with over subsequent years. This would allow competition to happen every 2 months, and provide a welcome sporting event for the public, who still faces a long summer with no baseball, no soccer and limited activities in nature. The remaining 4 basho would be conducted under the same rules as Osaka – no public, but ample TV coverage. This would still be a financial blow to the association and the stables, as the sequestration of the rikishi would necessarily continue, and there would be no interactions with the supporting groups and fan clubs that are a source of much needed money for the stables.
What are your thoughts? Please feel free to chime in in the comments.