Last week News18 reported that the Japanese Sumo Association (JSA) had instituted new regulations in an attempt to clean up the image of the centuries-old sport. Top of the JSA’s targets for things which need to be banned: beards.
A JSA spokesperson spoke to Agence France-Presse about the new laws. “It was stipulated that items such as long nails, tattoos and beards grown out of an excessive wish for good luck shall be banned.”
“Wrestlers must preserve their personal hygiene,” added the spokesperson. “Officials and referees will be on the lookout. The sumo ring is sacred and it’s important spectators don’t see anything unsightly.”
Reigning grand champion Kakuryu also spoke to AFP about the new rules. “It’s an important point so we must absolutely adhere to it.”
The JSA’s new rules come on the heels of a number of scandals which have harmed the sport’s mainstream viability in Japan. One such scandal occurred in November 2017 when reigning Yokozuna Harumafuji Kohei got into a wild bar brawl with a lower-ranking wrestler.
That brawl, which started when the young wrestler phubbed his elder, featured improvised weapons such as ashtrays, beer bottles, an ice-pick, and a karaoke remote control (a deadly weapon in some hands). The fight resulted in the young wrestler reportedly going to hospital with a fractured skull.
Harumafuji retired from the sport after the incident.
Before this, pro sumo had weathered hazing scandals (one of which resulted in the death of a 17-year-old initiate) and links to yakuza crime syndicates. In 2010 a wrestler and stable-master were banned by the JSA for betting on baseball through yakuza gambling rings (dozens more individuals were punished with demotions). Around that time the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza clan bought out the front rows of a nationally televized sumo tournament. Viewers could clearly see the gangsters in attendance. Reportedly, these two yakuza involved incidents lead to a major dip in sumo’s popularity.
Sumo has also endured a number of sexism scandals in recent years. Women have long been banned from participating in many activities around sumo. The JSA has claimed that the sacredness of the sumo ring would be spoiled if a woman stepped foot inside of it. This was clear when they banned a female mayor from giving a speech inside the ring last year. Also last year, female medics were turfed from the sumo ring when they tried to attend to a separate mayor (who was male) after he collapsed in the ring while giving a speech.
It remains to be seen if the Japanese public, and international watchers, will come back to scandal-rife and sexist sumo thanks to a lack of beards, tattoos, and long fingernails.