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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #324: December 1, 2005

Bulgarian is First Euro to Rise to Sumo's Ozeki Rank

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Bulgarian is First Euro to Rise to Sumo's Ozeki Rank
(Reuters) Sports Illustrated


Bulgarian sumo wrestler Kotooshu was promoted to the second-highest rank in sumo, the traditional Japanese sport. He is the first European to attain the rank, and the quickest ever for anyone to reach there at his 19th tournament after debut.

Sumo is a traditional Japanese quasi-wrestling sort of sport, retaining the tradition not only in the simple rules of the match but also the whole system to run it, from the attires of wrestlers and referees to the stables where wrestlers live and train.

As briefly explained in the above referenced article, because of the traditional and cultural aspect of sumo which many consider to be a part of the sport itself, there have been concerns expressed in allowing foreigners to participate in the system.

Currently, there are 722 sumo wrestlers, and among them, 52 foreigners. The ratio of 8% may seem small, but the ratio rapidly increases as the rank gets higher. Among the top eight "san-yaku" wrestlers, four, or half of them, are foreigners, not to mention the only "yokozuna" the top rank title held by a Mongolian Asashoryu.

Since 1980s, Hawaiians, Mongolians, and then Europeans have come to challenge in the sport. One of the incentives is obviously the income. While the lower rank wrestlers can earn very little especially in terms of cash, as they are effectively fed by the stables they belong, Asashoryu, the yokozuna's official annual income is estimated to be around 200 million yen. It may be small compared to, say, some top professional athletes in the U.S., but it is a sizable amount for a young man from a developing country working alone, and can pocket most of the income as the cost of living as well as training is borne by the stable which he belongs to.

Japanese people have mixed feelings about the situation. Although they have become accustomed to seeing foreign sumo wrestlers, they are not certain as to what extent it should be "globalized."

Some say it might be as well if sumo were to be internationalized to the extent being a part of the Olympic Games, just as judo has become. Those at the other extreme claim sumo is essentially a sacred shrine ritual, disguised in the form of a fight, that should be passed on as the core spirit making up Japan.

The ambivalence is reflected in the current rule that each sumo stable - there are 54 of them - is allowed to have only one foreigner wrestler. It is not easy to predict which direction the things would be heading to from here. But this is perhaps one of the not-so-many things the solution need not be sought quickly, and could wait for the consensus to guide the way.

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