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Forced retirement eyed for sumo grand champion

TOKYO (AFP) –

Harumafuji ended his first regular 15-day basho since his September promotion with a miserable nine wins and six losses

New yokozuna, or grand champion, Harumafuji performs the ceremonial entrance into the ring at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, September 2012. Harumafuji is staring forced retirement in the face after just one tournament as yokozuna because of his disastrous debut performance.

Newly-crowned sumo grand champion Harumafuji is staring forced retirement in the face after just one tournament as yokozuna because of his disastrous debut performance.

The Mongolian ended his first regular 15-day basho since his September promotion with a miserable nine wins and six losses on Sunday, prompting a blue-riband panel of sumo advisers to slam him as unsuitable for the rank.

“If you don’t get double-digit wins, you are not qualified to be yokozuna,” said the head of the panel that is charged by the Japan Sumo Association with recommending wrestlers’ promotions.

Worse still, the 28-year-old suffered five straight losses in the last five days of competition, a record string of defeats for a yokozuna in his debut tournament.

“Some people may wonder why he was promoted to yokozuna in the first place,” Takuhiko Tsuruta told a news conference after his Yokozuna Deliberation Council met on Monday to scrutinise the Mongolian’s performance.

“We are left with the feeling that we might have promoted him too quickly.”

Harumafuji told reporters after his final-day loss: “I want to strengthen myself mentally and physically.”

Kabuki actor Sawamura Tanosuke, an 80-year-old member of the panel, said: “If he gets only single-digit wins in the next tournament, that would mean retirement.”

Harumafuji, whose real name is Davaanyam Byambadorj, was promoted to yokozuna after the September tournament, the fifth of six held over the year, in which he logged a second straight perfect 15-0.

In the arcane and tradition-steeped world of sumo, two consecutive wins are a principal requirement for promotion to yokozuna, but there are no hard and fast rules.

Fellow Mongolian Hakuho, 27, who became yokozuna in 2007, had been alone at the top for nearly two-and-a-half years since compatriot Asashoryu retired in early 2010.

The rank is not something that can be taken away from a fighter, meaning those deemed no longer good enough must retire from the ring, a process that involves their long hair being ceremonially cut.

Tsuruta, former president of the leading business daily Nikkei, also complained that Harumafuji frequently uses the technique of “harite”, where a wrestler slaps the opponent’s face and neck.

The technique is too crude for a yokozuna to employ, Tsuruta said. “I want him to stop using it. Sumo is not a brawl.”

He added that his panel had yet to decide what measures it might take against the embattled yokozuna, such as warnings and recommendations for forced early retirement.

Harumafuji, a relative lightweight at only 133 kilogrammes (293 pounds), relies heavily on his speed against opponents who on average weigh around 30 kilogrammes more than him.

The advisory panel is made up of media moguls, university rectors, artists, novelists, retired politicians and other members of the country’s establishment. It currently has 12 members.

Harumafuji is the 70th grand champion since the first was declared in the 17th century, and only the fifth foreigner to be made yokozuna since Hawaiian Akebono broke the mould in 1993.

After another Hawaiian, Musashimaru, became one in 1999, three Mongolians followed him to the top rank.

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