Sumo fans' complaint: Too many Mongolian fighters in the sport

Sumo fans' complaint: Too many Mongolian fighters in the sport

It's sumo wrestling season again in Japan, but many fans are yearning for a Japanese star to wrestle the championship from foreign-born fighters.

The number of foreign wrestlers, especially in the top classes, has risen in recent years as fewer Japanese are attracted to the sport.

While Japanese fans say they admire the foreign-born fighters, with many acquiring Japanese names and speaking the language, they would like to see an end to the domination.

In recent years the sport has seen a streak of champions from Mongolia, Estonia and Bulgaria. The Japan Sumo Association currently lists 25 wrestlers from Mongolia in its list of roughly 600 professional fighters.

"There are too many Mongolians, the next expected grand champion sumo wrestler are first Terunofuji (Haruo), and Ichinojo (Takashi) - all the grand champions may be all Mongolian soon. I really hope Japanese do better as it'd be sad if they were all Mongolians. That said they are really good," spectator and 39-year-old dance instructor, Izumi Kondo told Reuters.

Another supporter, 71-year-old construction worker Fumio Tamura. who was seen holding the Japanese and Mongolian national flags during a tournament, said: "It's great that it's international now. But I am Japanese so I want to see a Japanese grand champion sumo wrestler. We haven't had one for years."

The life as a sumo wrestler is less appealing to Japanese today. The conditions are harsh, the training is tough and fighters are forced to live a communal lifestyle with little privacy.

The sumo world is strictly hierarchical. Wrestlers belong to one of around 50 stables and salaries and status depend on their rank. Only those in the top five classes can marry and receive regular salaries - for instance, a yokozuna makes 2.8 million yen (US$34,000) per month.

Hakuho Sho became a legend in the sport earlier this year when he wrestled his way into his 33rd championship, the most in sumo's recorded history. His opponent on Friday, Harumafuji Kohei, is one of the four Mongolians attaining the rank of grand champion, yokozuna.

There are only 71 yokozunas in the history of professional sumo wrestling, according to the official website of the Japan Sumo Association.

Sumo's history stretches back about 1,500 years with roots in a religious ritual conducted in Shinto shrines along with prayers for abundant harvests. The early sport was rougher than its modern version, involving boxing and wrestling elements.

But the sport has also been hit by a series of scandals, including hazing and drug-abuse. Former yokozuna Asashoryu Akinori, the first Mongolian grand champion, quit in 2010 following accusations that he had broken a man's nose in a drunken brawl outside a Tokyo nightclub.

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