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Monday, May 15, 2006

With Wailing Walls and Dead Sea dips, who needs the World Cup?


Special to The Japan Times Online

Sumo, unlike football -- (the proper one as opposed to the pads and helmet version) -- never stops.

Many argue that there are too many basho each year with four, perhaps five deemed more conducive to rikishi health and welfare. The rikishi themselves, the sekitori in particular, no doubt feel the strain as one basho ends and the few short weeks before the serious training for the next begins are filled with social events, rank induced commitments, and frequent domestic, sometimes foreign tours.

So, as Japan and the majority of the six billion that call earth home start to tune in to watch the football World Cup, and, cough cough, England claim their first victory since 1966, little if any Japanese media coverage of late has been afforded the goliaths of the ring, the men of power that make up sumo.

Ironic then that the weeks following the first F-2 / Hakuho yusho have been some of the most interesting and event filled weeks in recent memory; especially for the stables of Yokozuna Grand Champion Asashoryu and Bulgarian Ozeki Kotooshu. Both (stables) have been on jolly foreign jaunts of late with Asashoryu leading the Takasago entourage to Mongolia and the new stable master of Sadogatake Beya, the recently retired and closer cropped Sekiwake Kotonowaka as was, taking his boys to Israel -- the first ever trip to the nation by a group of sumotori.

Fortunately for the English speaking fans, the trips were covered in great detail online in sumo forums or on blogs kept by the rikishi themselves in the case of Ichinoya of Takasago Beya. That said, it was the Sadogatake meets Israel lark that enthralled fans around the globe for most of last week as one of the most respected men of Internet sumo, Moti Dichne of Israel's Amateur Sumo Federation used his talents as a Japanese, Hebrew and English speaking group guide and event coordinator at large, to bring the daily goings on of this group of off duty rikishi to the wider, non-World Cup addicted public.

Goliath(s) in yukata truly did return to the Middle East many centuries after the original was downed by David, and reports of visits to the Wailing Wall, time spent floating in the Dead Sea (with obligatory 'reading a newspaper' pose) and so many trips to shopping centers as to worry this particular sumo writer delighted thousands, yet most of it somehow seemed to slip under the Japanese media radar.

In Mongolia, and from the blog of sumo's oldest active rikishi -- the aforementioned 45- year-young Ichinoya, we heard tales of drinking, rain, eating, more eating, more drinking, a massive hangover and good times all round that seemingly included only a dash of actual sumo.Rumors did emerge of a Yokozuna VS Establishment spat towards the end of the last tournament with the decision not to add Mongolia to the official overseas tour destinations list this year the supposed cause, (only Taiwan will see a full Sumo Association overseas trip in 2006) but with so many Mongolians in the sport and interest in sumo apparently gripping the landlocked nation it will only be a matter of time.

Chuck in a couple of engagement announcements -- Kyokutenho of Oshima Beya and Daimanazuru of Asahiyama Beya, add the troubles Hakuho has been having with his number deficient supporters club and you have the state of sumo as is today. June 26th will see the next banzuke ranking issued and the majority of fans will be looking at just how far Estonian Baruto was promoted on the back of his 11-4 in May. Sanyaku is not really on the cards but high Maegashira is a given. Next time out the multilingual giant from Mihogaseki Beya will be facing the very best, day in, day out in his toughest basho to date.

Away from things Mongolian or Israeli and on the fringes of the professional game, an American based agency attempted to take sumo on the road in what they boldly labeled the World Sumo League. Recruiting several European amateurs and even one high ranking European Sumo Union official did rather peeve the overseer of global amateur sumo -- the International Sumo Federation in Tokyo, but despite all the glitz and the glamour, the promises of taking sumo to a global audience, it looks like they may now have gone belly up.

Arenas across North America have been canceling WSL events one after the other and sources close to this whole affair do seem to indicate that WSL would be better referred to in full as 'What Sumo League?' if indeed, by the time you read this, it is remembered at all.



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