Sumo Association cancels recruit fitness test — because no one applied

For only the second time in Sumo history, Japan’s national association has had to cancel a fitness test for new recruits — because no one applied.

The test occurs six times a year ahead of official tournaments to ensure new recruits are fit enough to undertake the grueling training.

The last time there were no applicants was in 2007, but the number of young men interested in taking up the sport has been dwindling for years.

Sumo Master Dewanoumi, who runs the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, which begins on July 8, says that the startling lack of recruits “must be timing.”

“All Oyakata (sumo stable masters) are working hard on scouting. It is possible that applicants who intended to apply this time would have chosen other season,” he said.

Dewanoumi also works on recruiting, and says that “it is not an easy job,” partly due to the shrinking number of children in Japan.

In recent years, more than 80 rookies have applied for the recruitment screening process. So far this year, 64 boys have applied. Recruitment numbers are typically very low in June in Nagoya, he said.

Where are the budding sumos?

Being a sumo wrestler takes an enormous amount of training, much of which must take place when a man is young.

The JSA now mandates that applicants must have completed compulsory education before pursuing Sumo, but they must not be older than 23 years of age.

With fewer children being born in Japan each year, there is simply a smaller pool to pull potential Sumo champions from.

The lack of applications is a threat to the sport which dates back to Japan’s Edo period. In recent years, its reputation has also been damaged by a series of scandals, potentially eroding its fanbase.

In 2017, sumo grand champion Harumafuji retired soon after being accused of beating a junior wrestler. Earlier this year, a top referee was accused of sexually harassing a younger colleague, kissing him when he was “too drunk to remember.”

Younger generations are already less interested than their older counterparts in the sport, perhaps partly explained by a clash of old and new social values.

In April, when a sumo official collapsed, female medics were ordered not to treat him because women are not allowed in the ring.