The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, set to open next weekend, will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the sport’s governing body said Sunday.
The Japan Sumo Association’s board of directors made the decision in an extraordinary session in Osaka. Having already ruled out the possibility of staging the 15-day meet under normal conditions, the JSA weighed whether to hold the event at Edion Arena Osaka behind closed doors or call it off completely.
“We made this decision to help end the spread of the infection,” the JSA said on its website. “We ask for your understanding.”
The tournament was completely sold out, with over 7,000 spectators expected to attend each day.
While grand sumo tournaments have been canceled twice in the past, JSA Chairman Hakkaku said the directors agreed to go forward for the fans — even if people would not be able to attend.
“To those many who were looking forward to this, we are sorry for this huge inconvenience,” Hakkaku said. “There were various viewpoints, but there was an absolute desire to hold it for the sake of the fans.”
“It’s going to be very hard for the wrestlers, but they will need to maintain strong wills.”
When the tournament opens, the spotlight is set to fall on sekiwake Asanoyama. A good performance in Osaka could earn him a promotion to ozeki, the sport’s second-highest rank.
“Because there will be no fans, I can’t picture it in my head,” he said. “But because I believe people will be cheering me on from in front of their TVs, I have to go forward with confidence.”