[sumo] Fan Attendance a Surprise

Jeffrey Anderson jpaitv at gmail.com
Wed Jul 15 10:16:59 EDT 2020

BY JOHN GUNNING <https://www.japantimes.co.jp/author/john-gunning/>


   - JUL 15, 2020
   - PRINT
   - SHARE <http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=300&pubid=jtimes>

A common trope found in movies and TV shows has a protagonist desperately
trying (but failing) to convince authorities of the seriousness of
impending danger.

The hero becomes increasingly frustrated by their inaction while watching
the threat (whether from aliens, shadowy subversive organizations or
supervolcanoes) grow.

It’s been hard to avoid the feeling that real life is following a similar
pattern this month as a second wave of COVID-19 infections fights for
newspaper headline space with business reopenings and lifting of
restrictions across the country.

The sporting world has been no different — pressing on with plans to
gradually increase attendance at various competitions and events.

Nippon Professional Baseball and the J. League both allowed up to 5,000
spectators at games last week. The two organizations seem set to follow
government guidelines and push that figure up to 50 percent of venue
capacity starting Aug. 1.

Against that backdrop the Japan Sumo Association revealed July 13 that it
will sell 2,500 tickets per day for the tournament due to get underway on

Although the JSA had ruled nothing out ahead of the announcement, the
partial reopening still came as a shock, and caught many people off guard.

Few insiders had expected sumo’s governing body to allow the public back in
so soon, especially with it being the only Japanese sport to have had one
of its athletes die after contracting the new coronavirus.

The fact the announcement came just six days before action gets underway at
the Kokugikan, and that there hadn’t been enough time to properly evaluate
the impact of fan attendance at other sports, also meant that an early
reopening seemed unlikely.

In contrast to soccer and baseball, which hold games in open air stadiums
and large domes, sumo takes place indoors. The Kokugikan, although not
small, is a much more enclosed arena than any venue used by either NPB or
the J. League.

Reaction to the decision online reflected the surprise and concern
expressed by many who work in the sport.

In a rare case of English and Japanese language social media platforms
having concurring opinions about sumo, most people seemed happy that the
tournament would go ahead but disagreed with the decision to open the doors
to the general public.

Many of those commenting in Japanese wondered whether the announced
protective measures would be sufficient and expressed concern over the
health of both rikishi and fans.

Foreign fans seemed perplexed by the decision, especially with COVID-19
numbers in Tokyo rising rapidly over the past week.

They aren’t the only ones.

Without being privy to deliberations inside the JSA, it’s hard to know what
prompted such an unexpected course of action.

It’s no surprise that the powers have been keeping a close eye on other
sports and were obviously influenced by reopenings in soccer and baseball
but, as mentioned above, the venues used by those sports don’t really have
much in common with the Kokugikan.

With many coronavirus carriers also asymptomatic the taking of fans’
temperatures on the way into games doesn’t necessarily prevent those
infected from entering the arena, and so the impact of opening up won’t
really be seen for at least another couple of weeks.

The JSA decision was accompanied by an announcement that the November
tournament will also take place in Tokyo. Although a wise decision, it
appears to have come as a shock to the Japan Sumo Federation — the
governing body for amateur sumo in the country. With the All-Japan
University Championships due to take place in the Kokugikan on Nov. 7 and
8, moving the Kyushu Basho to the capital would require a change of date
for one of collegiate sumo’s biggest events. According to reports in the
Japanese sporting press, the JSF revealed that the JSA didn’t contact them
until July 14th — the day after the decision was made public.

In a country where the principle of harmony reigns and ensuring everyone is
on the same page before announcements are made is the norm, that was a very
surprising piece of news and would seem to indicate the JSA decision came
late, and without time to properly fill all the relevant parties in.
Certainly, none of the sources that normally provide a heads-up on such
things saw this coming.

With the JSA seemingly under no outside pressure to open the doors in July,
it is hard to see why they would take such a risk. Financially (on the
surface at least) the organization doesn’t appear to be in anything like
the same kind of dire straits that other sporting bodies have found
themselves in.

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of optimism within the JSA and a wish to get
back to normal as soon as possible. If that were the case though why cancel
the winter regional tour and announce the moving of the November tournament
so far in advance? Most of the decisions made by sumo’s governing body to
date have been on the conservative side and seemed to indicate a belief
that COVID-19 will be with us for quite a while yet.

The sudden and unexpected decision made on July 13 is certainly a puzzle,
but all one can do now is hope that it won’t backfire.

Will the July tournament be safe? No one can say that for sure, but one
thing is certain — it won’t be as safe as a tournament with no fans
Best regards,
Jeffrey Anderson

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been.
- John Greenleaf Whittier
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