Former yokozuna Kitanoumi, who resigned as chairman of the Japan Sumo Association three years ago to take responsibility for a drug possession charge against one of his wrestlers among other issues, was reappointed JSA chairman.
A leadership change had already been determined two summers ago when stablemaster Hanaregoma took over the post as chairman. That’s because, under JSA guidelines, Hanaregoma and other high-ranking officials over the age of 63 are not allowed to run for the position.
Hanaregoma had worked on rebuilding professional sumo, whose foundation was shaken by a bout-rigging scandal, and he cleared a path for the JSA to become a public interest corporation under a new system.
Meanwhile, other stablemasters had been voicing their discontent over Hanaregoma’s leadership, criticizing him for blindly obeying the sports ministry or for what some considered the “cold-blooded” action of banning 25 wrestlers and former wrestlers from the sport over the rigging scandal.
This feeling of discontent had transformed itself into a push to get Kitanoumi back in the job. Before the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November 2011, it was determined that more than half the JSA board members would be new members, making this the highest number of newcomers in JSA history to join at the same time.
This also fueled the stablemasters’ efforts to push for the appointment of Kitanoumi as chairman because they couldn’t find any other worthy candidates to bring the JSA together. Soon, stablemasters began expecting that Kitanoumi would somehow save the sumo industry.
These unrealistic expectations expressed by multiple stablemasters symbolize Kitanoumi’s popularity.
“Kitanoumi will wipe the slate clean,” some stablemasters proclaimed, regarding the harsh punishments imposed under Hanaregoma’s rule on wrestlers allegedly involved with baseball betting or bout-rigging. This outlook, obviously, is not acceptable for the general public.
Before being reappointed chairman on Jan. 30, Kitanoumi commented on the possibility of regaining leadership of the JSA.
“If someone has to do the job, and if that role comes to me, I won’t be able to run away from it,” he said, sounding like a man preparing to walk into a burning building.
Kitanoumi should not simply be prepared to tolerate public criticism in order to look good in front of other stablemasters. Instead, he should follow the reforms started by former JSA Chairman Hanaregoma and be prepared to confront other stablemasters at times in order to keep the sport of grand sumo alive for future generations.
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