Japan’s sumo body to allow fans for July tournament

Sumo wrestler Enho (left) battles Meisei during a pre-pandemic tournament in Tokyo. (Twitter pic/sumokyokai)

TOKYO: Japan’s sumo association said Monday it would allow fans to watch its July tournament at a Tokyo arena despite a recent spike in coronavirus cases in the capital.

About 2,500 spectators a day, or 25% of the indoor facility’s capacity, will be allowed to attend the 15-day tournament, which has been delayed until July 19 by the outbreak, the sport’s governing body said on its website.

It will be the first “basho” or tournament of the ancient sport with spectators since January. There are usually six tournaments across Japan each year.

The May tourney was cancelled following one behind closed doors with some rituals amended, including the traditional ladle of water that a winning wrestler offers to the next in the ring.

In May, a 28-year-old sumo wrestler died after contracting coronavirus, becoming the sport’s first Covid-19 fatality.

The association had originally planned to organise the upcoming tournament without spectators but has decided to admit fans “by thoroughly taking measures to prevent infections inside the facility.”

Under its guidelines, fans will be asked to wear masks, avoid shouting and “refrain from shaking hands with rikishi” or sumo wrestlers.

The decision came after a fresh surge in coronavirus cases in Tokyo, where the number of new infections reached a single-day record of 243 last week.

The government has lifted a national state of emergency imposed to contain the virus, but the public is still urged to observe good hygiene practices and social distancing.

The pandemic has already forced a one-year delay to the summer Tokyo Olympics and suspended everything from sumo to the summer high-school baseball tournament — an enormously popular event that receives extensive television coverage.

Since last week, however, a limited number of spectators have been allowed in stadiums for professional baseball and football league matches.