Matsugane-Oyakata, Positive for COVID-19

According to a statement issued by the Japan Sumo Association, Matsugane Hideki, coach in the Nishonoseki Stable, tested positive for COVID-19. Nishinoseki is home to Shohozan and Ichiyamamoto, among others. According to the statement and as we learned from Herouth over on Twitter, Matsugane was out scouting new recruits and so was tested, despite having no symptoms. He has been admitted and is under observation.

With the Coronavirus, symptoms may take some time to develop. Hopefully this is a sign that the Kyokai has instituted an effective testing protocol for those who have to conduct business outside the stable. We’ve also learned that after the positive test, there’s a contact tracing investigation. In the case of Matsugane, he was not near the stable or in close contact with its wrestlers during the July basho. Perhaps this regimen can be adapted to loosen the restrictions on movement?

Herouth shared a tweeted video of yusho-winner Terunofuji visiting his former high school, where Ishiura’s dad is the principal. One wonders whether despite the mask and gloves, Terunofuji would have been tested and whether any sekitori who make public appearances would be now tested according to this protocol.

Abi and Gokushindo Survive, For Now

A massive thank you, Herouth, for diving into the news sources and cutting to the chase. In short, the Abi saga, and his career, is not over — yet.

The Kyokai is holding onto Abi’s resignation. They have decided to punish him quite severely with a three tournament suspension and 50% cut in pay. He will have to accept the punishment, pledge in writing to not break the rules or cause further trouble, and he will also be required to move back into Shikoroyama-beya so he will be under direct supervision.

Save me Jebus

Gokushindo has been revealed to be the lower-ranked wrestler who accompanied Abi. He has been suspended for two tournaments. We have also learned that Abi had *many* excursions to the “night business” which contravened the Kyokai’s rules. This was not a couple of times but a pattern of behavior which he then attempted to cover up.

A key question that comes out of this is, will there be any changes to the strict rules the NSK imposed to prevent a COVID outbreak? Abi was joined on his outings by supporters. Despite Abi’s punishment, one would doubt that the supporter’s backing will be turned away. However, he finally may have the “out” that he needed to turn down the supporter as now, his career apparently hangs in the balance.

In a sense, was Abi going out to hostess clubs or was Abi the host? And what happens when you get your favorite host fired? Would the backer continue to be a supporter when Abi’s career is over? Or would he move on to another wrestler? With Abi now grounded, will the supporter need to find a good night out somewhere else?

Fans provide key financial backing to wrestlers, stables, and the Kyokai. We have seen how the end of Jungyo, cancelling and curtailing of tournaments, and severing of contact with the public has impacted the Kyokai. They fought to hold the March and July tournaments. They needed to hold the July tournament as much as we needed to see it. But they had to do it safely. Let’s hope we can all find some sort of balance.

In closing, I apologize, I’m not full of answers today; I’m full of more questions. The question that will be answered first, and likely in the coming days, is “will Abi accept this?” As Leonid reported, at least Shikoroyama-oyakata can celebrate Oki’s rise to the salaried ranks. He may be heyagashira soon.

Shikihide Stable Scarpering Scandal

Nine wrestlers from Shikihide Stable have left the heya, appealing to the Kyokai for help from moral harassment. The wrestlers left claiming that the stable’s okamisan had imposed and enforced unacceptably strict rules in the absence of Shikihide-oyakata due to an unspecified illness.

There are nineteen total wrestlers at Shikihide stable. The identities of the wrestlers involved have not been disclosed. The nature of Shikihide’s illness has not been disclosed, either, but he has been kyujo from tournaments this year. He usually manages the jungyo tours which have been cancelled due to the pandemic. Tachiai wishes him well and hopefully he will recover soon and hopefully some arrangement and solution can be found for the stable.

I would like to note the close timing with the friction between Nakagawa Oyakata and a group of wrestlers, Abi’s Cabaret Club visit with another unnamed wrestler, and Tagonoura oyakata’s own dinner out where he was caught intoxicated on social media. Apologies for the massive run-on sentence but there has been almost as much drama off the dohyo as on it.

Sadly, we may have lost Abi. If he’s out, surely one must wonder about the lower-ranked wrestler who went with him…and now almost half of Shikihide beya? The heya life has become exceedingly difficult under COVID restrictions. Wrestlers have been virtually cloistered for months. It is understandable and perhaps predictable that tensions are high and tempers have flared. I hope these little fires can be contained, perhaps by loosening of these restrictions on movement and social media before it’s too late.

Tochiozan Retrospective

Now that the tournament is over and you’re hankering for sumo content, enjoy this video of Tochiozan’s career. It begins with his announcement, seated with Kasugano-oyakata, where I thought it seemed very hard for him to say the word 引退. He seemed to swallow it rather than say it.

The video is awesome. It shows his debut as a young Kageyama, and his quick rise, picking up the sandanme yusho and on to Juryo promotion within two years (virtual warp speed in the sumo world). It goes on to show his playoff loss to Kyokutenho for the top division yusho in May 2012. He defeated Kisenosato in that tournament, too. It’s amazing how long these rivalries last. And he seemed about as happy as Shodai, settling for a special prize. He was a mainstay of the top division, peaking at Sekiwake.