Japan’s sumo panel questions grand champion Harumafuji about bar brawl assault

Lower ranked competitor was taken to hospital with head injuries after it was alleged he was struck with a beer bottle

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 6:45pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 November, 2017, 10:00pm

A crisis management team formed by Japanese sumo administrators questioned grand champion Harumafuji on Sunday for the first time over an assault on lower ranked competitor Takanoiwa during an alcohol-fuelled brawl late last month.

Panel head Toshio Takano did not say what the 33-year-old Mongolian yokozuna said in the two-hour interrogation, but pledged to “report as soon as possible” on the case.

The Japan Sumo Association had said earlier the panel would fully examine the case and hand down a judgment or punishment sometime after the ongoing Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, which ends on November 26.

“He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone in line with what had happened. We listened to him faithfully,” Takano, a former prosecutor, told reporters after the questioning at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan hall.

It was the first time Harumafuji had spoken to the JSA panel since the sport’s governing body learned of the incident earlier this month. The team is tasked with looking into specific details of the incident, including whether, as reported, Harumafuji struck Takanoiwa in the head with a beer bottle.

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Harumafuji was questioned by police on Friday and admitted that he injured fellow Mongolian wrestler Takanoiwa at a restaurant bar in the western Japan city of Tottori, investigative sources said.

However, he denied allegations that he struck Takanoiwa with a beer bottle, saying he hit him with his bare hands, the sources said.

The yokozuna was reported to have hit Takanoiwa with the bottle after he was angered by the 27-year-old looking at his smartphone while being scolded for his behaviour.

Sources said no one at the restaurant reported the incident to the police or called an ambulance. It also took a few days for a damage report to be sent to the police by Takanoiwa’s stablemaster.

Takanoiwa missed the ongoing Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament after being diagnosed with head injuries including a suspected fracture at the base of his skull and a cerebrospinal fluid liquid leak. He was kept in hospital from November 5 to 9.

Harumafuji, a nine-time tournament winner, has spoken little in public after the scandal came to light, only apologising for causing trouble. He has pulled out of the Kyushu tournament.

The government has expressed regret over the case engulfing the traditional Japanese sport, which was regaining popularity after its reputation was tainted by scandals over match-fixing, violence and bullying.

On Friday, Japan’s sports minister Yoshimasa Hayashi urged the sumo association to get to the bottom of the allegations swiftly.

“It’s extremely regrettable that such a case happened,” he said. “In general, we must resolutely seek to eradicate violence among sports athletes.”

In the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, Takanoiwa’s brother Adiya Luvsan, 45, said Harumafuji should apologise to Takanoiwa. He told reporters that Takanoiwa had called him and said he was hit with a beer bottle and the assault was sudden.

In 2010, the Mongolian grand champion of the time, Asashoryu, allegedly seriously injured a man in a drunken rampage and later announced his retirement. Prosecutors decided not to formally charge Asashoryu for the assault.