Positive COVID-19 Tests At a Heya – A Threat To Aki?

This thread emerged a few days ago on Twitter thanks to Tachiai’s own Herouth. A rikishi, ranked Makushita or below, tested positive for COVID-19 in the pre-basho work up. On Saturday the 5th, this rikishi, from an unnamed large stable, reported feeling unwell. He was sent to a local infirmary for an antigen test, which returned positive.

https://www.nikkansports.com/battle/sumo/news/202009060000387.html

On the back of that, the entire heya was tested, and now we know the results of that sweep. NSK spokesman Shibatayama has only reported “several more” confirmed cases of COVID in the same heya, but it appears that not all of the PCR tests have been resolved by the lab at the time of this report. It is expected that more details will be published when the scope and severity of the situation is better understood. Shibatayama remarked that “some of the cases are symptomatic, some are not. None of the rikishi are showing severe symptoms”.

As of now, we are 4 days before of the Aki Basho, and it’s unknown how the Sumo Association will handle this outbreak. Options range from canceling the basho, to moving ahead with that entire heya being kyujo, or the quite unlikely proceeding as planned with only rikishi who test positive declared kyujo. Should the heya turn out to be something like Kokonoe, Sadogatake or even Isegahama, it would throw chaos into scheduling and matches across most divisions.

We will continue to follow this story, and thanks again to Herouth.

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.

July Basho Covid-19 Precautions

Masks

Today the NSK has announced that they will be holding the 2020 July Basho, which kicks off next Sunday, July 19th. They have also announced that audience members will be allowed to attend, albeit at a far reduced number at 2,500 (25% of the regular capacity). In preparation for the first fan attended Honbasho since Hatsu, the NSK has published a strick guideline to combat Covid-19 infection, which applies to both audience members, rikishi, and other association members.

Regulations for audience members:

  • The Kokugikan will open at 1:00pm.
  • Upon entering the Kokugikan, audience members will have their temperature checked and their hands disinfected. Mini disinfectants will be distributed.
  • Spectators must wear masks, and keep eating and drinking to a minimum. Food sales and shopping opportunities will be limited.
  • Only one spectator may sit in the 4 person masu boxes located in the first level of the Kokugikan.
  • Spectators must sit 3 seats apart, and rows will be staggered to avoid sitting directly in front of each other. No one will be permitted to sit in the aisle seats.
  • The Tamari seats that surround the dohyo will be vacant.
  • Any fan service that would bring audience members into contact with rikishi are cancelled.
  • Spectators are encouraged to show self-restraint, and applause is recommended instead of cheering.

Regulations for rikishi and other association members:

  • Precautions put into place during the Haru Basho in March, such as temperature checks and hand sanitization, will continue to be followed.
  • Masks are to be worn in the shitakubeya during preparation and warmups.
  • Acrylic dividers will be used to separate each rikishi’s preparation area.
  • The sumo school will be set up as an extra preparation space to avoid crowding.
  • Markers will be placed along the hanamichi for rikishi, yobidashi, and gyoji to practice social distancing.
  • Tokoyama are encouraged to do as much of their hairdressing as possible at the heya.
  • Rikishi will remove their mask when they exit the shitakubeya and will put on a fresh mask after their match, before re-entering the preparation room.

It is through these precautions that the NSK hopes to prevent any spread of Covid-19 to association members and spectators alike. While this announcement somewhat clears up what the July Basho is going to look like, there still remain several details that haven’t been explained. For example, does the mask removal apply to yobidashi, or just when they are doing specific jobs like calling the rikishi? Will rikishi and shimpan be spread out or staggered around the dohyo? These questions and more may not get an answer until we see everything in motion come July 19th.

Asahiyama-oyakata hosts TV Special on Saturday

For those in Japan, mark your calendars for Saturday at 1:30pm on BSFuji TV. Asahiyama-oyakata will join Karahashi Yumi to discuss sumo. Though there will be no Natsu Basho, there is clearly A LOT to discuss, including the results of Haru, Asanoyama’s Ozeki promotion and the pandemic’s impact.