By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterProfessional sumo wrestlers are banned from driving cars by the Japan Sumo Association, a rule implemented after a makuuchi wrestler caused a traffic accident in 1985. The wrestler was forced to sit out most of a tournament with a serious injury that required two months of treatment.
The stablemasters subsequently agreed at a meeting to prohibit wrestlers from driving cars, but have had to seek the wrestlers’ full understanding for the ban again whenever a wrestler was involved in an accident.
The JSA currently bans all professional sumo wrestlers from driving vehicles, gambling illegally and engaging in violent behavior, and requires them to submit a written pledge that they will not engage in such activities.
Osunaarashi, juryo division wrestler from Egypt, who is also a former makuuchi wrestler, caused an accident while driving in Nagano Prefecture in January this year. The 26-year-old had neither a Japanese driving license nor a valid international license. His actions are inexcusable.
He initially told the JSA that his wife was driving the car, but reportedly changed his story several times to cover up his lies.
The JSA opted to take disciplinary action and recommended that Osunaarashi retire from sumo, taking into account the poor impression he created by lying to the association. Osunaarashi retired by accepting the recommendation.
There are pros and cons to the driving ban for sumo wrestlers. Some people may think it is irrational that the association adopted the rules, even for wrestlers who are officially licensed.
In 2007, a group of sumo wrestlers that also served as an association to promote camaraderie, sought partial permission from the JSA to drive. The group claimed that wrestlers occasionally need to drive in place of their wives or during family outings, among other circumstances.
The JSA, however, turned down the request, stating: “There are cases where a wrestler may never wrestle again due to a car accident. The stablemasters will also be held responsible for any accident.”
The absence of a wrestler from a tournament would affect the bout pairings. Should a juryo or higher-ranked wrestler withdraw, the tournament would be negatively impacted.
Such circumstances apply not only to sumo, but to all professional sports. The JSA has no plans to lift the self-imposed regulation. Is this rule really misguided?