Harumafuji (pictured), who holds sumo’s highest ranking of yokozuna, appeared on Japanese television to acknowledge his role in the incident and express his remorse
A sumo wrestling grand champion has been accused of smashing a beer bottle over a lower-ranked rival in a case that has shocked the highly ceremonial sport.
Japanese media reported that Harumafuji hit his fellow Mongolian wrestler Takanoiwa in the head with a beer bottle at a party last month, fracturing his skull base and causing other injuries.
Harumafuji, who holds sumo’s highest ranking of yokozuna, appeared on Japanese television to acknowledge his role in the incident and express his remorse.
‘I sincerely apologize for causing trouble,’ Harumafuji told reporters in Fukuoka, a southern Japanese city where the Kyushu Grand Sumo tournament is currently being held.
But the 33-year-old deflected further questions to the ‘stable master’ who runs his camp.
Seiya Isegahama then said the champion would visit the victim’s stable later on today to offer a personal apology.
The ancient sport has an extremely strict protocol, and yokozuna are expected to be beyond moral reproach in addition to showing superior strength and technique in the ring.
‘I sincerely apologize for causing trouble,’ Harumafuji told reporters in Fukuoka, a southern Japanese city where the Kyushu Grand Sumo tournament is currently being held
Wrestlers are not even allowed to express emotions when they win, as this is seen as inconsiderate to the loser.
Tomokatsu Taniguchi, head of legal affairs for the sumo association, said that Takanoiwa’s stable master had submitted a doctor’s certificate regarding a head injury that would require two weeks to heal.
A link between the injury and the allegation is not confirmed, added Taniguchi, as officials are still investigating the matter.
Harumafuji is viewed as having a skilful technique that allows him to offset a relatively small body weight – at a mere 137 kilogrammes, he is one of the lightest in the sport’s top division.
He emerged victorious at the most recent tournament in September in Tokyo, edging out Japan’s Goeido in a thrilling last day bout.
Born Davaanyam Byambadorj, Harumafuji debuted in 2001 and has won the championship nine times
‘Harumafuji will be absent from the third day’ of the current tournament in Fukuoka, western Japan, the sumo association tweeted without giving a reason.
The news dominated Japanese television talk shows and evening newspapers on Tuesday as the nation expressed its shock at claims against a yokozuna, whose behavior in sports and society is expected to be exemplary.
Born Davaanyam Byambadorj, Harumafuji debuted in 2001 and has won the championship nine times.
The incident is the latest scandal to rock the sport of sumo in recent years following investigations into hazing and match-fixing.
In 2010, then-yokozuna Asashoryu, also from Mongolia, retired from the sport after allegations he had attacked a man outside a Tokyo nightclub during a tournament.
In June 2007, a stable master and his three wrestlers were convicted over a bullying-death of a 17-year-old junior wrestler.
Abuse in Japan’s most sacred sport
Tales of extreme physical abuse are becoming more common in sumo – Japan’s national sport – which is characterised by harsh training and strict hierarchy. It has also been hit in recent years by bout-fixing rumours and illegal gambling.
Last year, a wrestler and his stable master were reportedly ordered to pay more than £220,000 to a fellow grappler for daily abuse that led to the loss of sight in one of the victim’s eyes.
In 2007, a trainee sumo wrestler died after being bullied and subjected to violent initiation rites, sending shockwaves through the sport.
A stable master who struck the teen with a beer bottle was sentenced to five years in jail for negligence resulting in death.
And in 2010, firebrand Mongolian grand champion Asashoryu retired after being accused of breaking a man’s nose in a drunken brawl outside a Tokyo nightclub.
Violent treatment of apprentices and junior wrestlers in the name of training had long been seen as par for the course at sumo stables, but the sport is now struggling to oust such customs.
Another Mongolian grand champion Hakuho, seen as a gentle giant, has almost single-handedly restored the sport’s good name.
But he too fanned the flames of a row over sumo etiquette in 2015 when he was annoyed at being ordered to repeat a bout deemed too close to call, letting rip at the decision.