JSA needs to act after seeing 4 ozeki demoted in quick succession

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The look on ozeki Shodai’s face says it all after he was pushed out of the ring by komusubi Tamawashi for his makekoshi eighth loss at the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in Fukuoka on Nov. 25.

Last month in my previous column dealing with ozeki demotions, I touched on the viewpoint that the time spent at that rank was regarded as a period of education for the gifted to prepare to ascend to yokozuna.

However, just like Mitakeumi before him, Shodai has gone the opposite way and will be demoted to sekiwake. Instead of the gifted growing as wrestlers, all we see these days is a current crop of ozeki putting all of their efforts into just preserving their rank.

Why can’t Shodai perform the way he did when he was barging up the rankings? There are a number of reasons, but first and foremost is how he starts matches.

Shodai has a habit at the jump-off of keeping his hips high and straightening up. This positioning goes against the most basic principle of sumo of leaning forward.

From there, the pressure he applies to advance forward, that is, when he gets his feet moving, is not textbook, but in the past he was able to make it work. However, it becomes a weakness as soon as he meets with resistance. In his run-up to ozeki, Shodai was very powerful at the initial collision. It was when he was at the top of his game that he should have made an effort to fix his bad habits. With his ability to move forward currently waning, he no longer has the leeway to overcome his weaknesses.

However, I don’t think Shodai is solely responsible. An ozeki’s period for education is also a problem for the entire sumo world.

His education is not just for the Tokitsukaze stable to which he belongs, and it goes beyond the scope of the five stable alliances.

The same can be said for Mitakeumi. What could be done to get him to aim for yokozuna? Beyond just the Dewanoumi stable, the sumo world as a whole has to think about this and provide him with the proper training.

Three years ago, Takayasu also fell from the ozeki rank. Last year, Asanoyama was dealt a demotion as part of disciplinary measures for misconduct.

In just a few years, four energetic ozeki have suffered the drop. Naturally, these ozeki, lacking backbone and self-awareness, bear the ultimate responsibility. But one wonders whether the Japan Sumo Association intends to sweep the matter under the rug by making this solely a problem of the wrestlers themselves.

Fortunately, coronavirus countermeasures have enabled the restart of regional tours. I want this opportunity to be used for reevaluating the system with a focus on what should be done during training while on the road.

Also, is it all right to maintain the current rules governing the promotion and demotion of ozeki? If the way the ozeki exist is not reevaluated, it will result in fans losing interest in grand sumo tournaments.

— Miki is a sumo expert.