By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterTwo ozeki withdrew from the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament that recently ended. Takayasu applied for his withdrawal before the start of the basho, while Goeido pulled out of the tournament on Day 9 because of a left ankle injury.
Though it was quite unusual for a basho to lose all ozeki-ranked wrestlers, it was understandable given their injuries.
What I felt was odd, however, was Takayasu referring to the possibility of entering the basho after the 15-day meet started.
Takayasu injured his upper left arm during a practice session ahead of the summer tournament. He and yokozuna Kisenosato submitted to the Japan Sumo Association their notices of absence from the tournament on the morning of May 11 — the day a panel that decides the matchups held a meeting.
Stablemaster Tagonoura, Takayasu’s mentor and the former makuuchi wrestler Takanotsuru, said during an interview at his stable, “Takayasu will work on recovering from his injuries, with an eye to joining the basho halfway through.”
The ozeki echoed his mentor’s sentiments, saying he intended to join the tournament “if I can recover from my injury.”
Wrestlers in the yokozuna and ozeki ranks are required to always remain in the title hunt. However, because matchups for the first two days were decided at the May 11 meeting, the ozeki effectively earned two losses before the tournament even began when he submitted his notice of absence that day. The longer he took to recover, the more losses he would incur if and when he entered the tournament, as missing a bout is treated as a loss in the record books.
So my question is, “How can he join the title race by entering the basho midway through?”
However, it seems the ozeki and his stablemaster never really intended to compete for the Emperor’s Cup.
Presumably, they were more concerned with posting a winning record at the summer tournament to avoid a kadoban status in the next tournament, in which an ozeki who posts a losing record for two straight tournaments faces demotion.
If he were a rank-and-file makuuchi wrestler, his obsession with posting a winning record by joining in the middle of a basho might be praiseworthy. But such logic should never be applied to a wrestler of the ozeki rank.
No rule prohibits yokozuna and ozeki from joining a tournament halfway through. However, unwritten sumo conventions — which are stronger than rules — dictate that top wrestlers should avoid entering a tournament that has already begun. This is why I felt odd about Takayasu’s comments.
Promotions to ozeki and yokozuna involve a different set of procedures than those for reaching sekiwake and below. Therefore, wrestlers promoted to ozeki commonly make statements of resolution such as, “I will make further efforts and devote myself to never disgracing the rank of ozeki.”
Takayasu and Tagonoura must take to heart that ozeki wrestlers bear such a great responsibility.
— Miki is a sumo expert.
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