Sumo’s next overseas mission is to be a two-day tournament at the end of August in Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator
Japan Times writes that,
By MARK SCHREIBER
Since 1907, when yokozuna (grand champion) Hitachiyama visited the United States on the first sumo tour abroad, generations of the Japan’s giant grapplers have reveled in their roles as roving goodwill ambassadors.
Sumo’s next overseas mission is to be a two-day tournament at the end of August in Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator.
When Shukan Post (May 23) first broke this story, it was clear the Mongolian hosts had yet to achieve consensus on were the bouts were going to be held. Now, with the event less than four weeks away, Shukan Post (Aug. 8 ) reiterates its earlier premise that the real battle is shaping up outside the straw ring, and it’s pitting the vested interests of two Mongolian nationals against one another — with the Japan Sumo Association caught in the middle.
One, 35-year-old Davaagiin Batbayar, competed under the name Kyokushuzan before his retirement in November 2006. While Kyokushuzan never rose above komusubi (the fourth-highest ranking), he was the first from his country to break into sumo’s makunouchi top division.
The other is 27-year-old Asashoryu, the senior of sumo’s two current yokozuna, both Mongolians. Asashoryu has repatriated much of his earnings to develop and expand the “ASA Group,” a conglomerate of hotels, trading firms and other enterprises.
Batbayar, who also invested his sumo winnings into business, then entered politics. He was elected to Mongolia’s 76-seat national assembly in early July. Subsequent accusations of election irregularities led to riots in which five died and over 200 were injured.
The instability has led to concerns over the safety of holding the tournament this month, and Batbayar visited Japan in mid-July to hold talks with the association.
Now, a tug-of-war has broken out over which venue will host the event. Batbayar is pitching the city’s “Sumo Kaikan,” which can seat 3,000. Asashoryu backs the use of the city’s small circus arena (with seating for 1,500), which just happens to be operated by his family. Neither venue seems to be up to Japan standards; both have their supporters and detractors, arrayed along family, business and political lines.
So determined is Asashoryu to ensure the upcoming tournament will be a success that Shukan Bunshun (July 31) implies he exaggerated the extent of his elbow injury, withdrawing from the Nagoya Grand Tournament on the sixth day to devote his full efforts to promoting the Ulan Bator event. His absence at Nagoya effectively handed the championship to rival yokozuna Hakuho, who easily won with a record of 15 wins and no defeats.
While Asashoryu’s mercenary attitudes have frequently earned him criticism in the past, this time his motives might not be entirely entrepreneurial. Shukan Taishu (Aug. 11) reports that Asashoryu, who is said to be close to Mongolia’s President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, may have already decided to hang up his mawashi (belly band) and enter the rough-and-tumble ring of Mongolian politics — where he would contend with Batbayar, a member of the opposition party.
The outcome of this rivalry may transcend mere sport, since Batbayar has reportedly offered his good offices to mediate with North Korea on the thorny issue of the Japanese abductees.
“If Kyokushuzan (Batbayar) makes a breakthrough, Mongolia could expect more development assistance from Japan, which would cement his popularity at home,” a Japanese resident of Ulan Bator tells Shukan Taishu.
In the arena of global politics, sumo seems to be taking on more weight.