Amongst much controversy, the Grand Sumo Nagoya Tournament has gone on (mostly) as planned, despite NHK’s refusal to broadcast the event and a boycott by a number of sponsors (but not McDonalds!). It’s far from business as usual, however, as an increased police presence and visible security cameras don’t make sumo fans feel quite as welcome as in previous years.
The Mainichi ran an article recently about how the the tournament has been affected, citing an increase of empty seats as just one of the issues facing his highly-monitored event. A great bit of flavor comes from an account of two fans who got into a fight because one offhandedly said the other looked like a yakuza:
At the end of the second day of the tournament, a 62-year-old man from Aichi Prefecture who was wearing black sunglasses was exciting the arena when a fellow fan mumbled, “bouryokudan…” The two got into an argument that ended after security guards intervened.
The man with the glasses commented angrily, “How dare he mistake me for a gang member. It’s really insulting. The whole atmosphere here is really strange. Maybe they shouldn’t have held the tournament at all.”
The article goes on to report that a woman in charge of the information desk at the tournament says that they haven’t gotten even half the number of viewers they typically host and that there’s been a number of cancellations.
Comments from those who did attend the tournament seem to indicate a common sentiment that the entire thing has been blown out of proportion. One 60-year-old local said he thinks the punishment against Kotomitsuki is too harsh for just gambling on baseball, while a middle school student commented that he wished the Sumo Association “would consider the fans.”
Other news reports tell tales of a large but still disappointing turnout on the first day. While 90% capacity is considered “full house” for the event, the July 11 opening reportedly saw 7,200 of the 8,100–or 89 percent–of the arena’s seats filled. This year was the first since 1985 that the tournament couldn’t roll out their “manin onrei banner,” signaling a full house. Reports of the second day, cite attendance numbers even lower at only around 4,500–800 fewer than last year.
A number of sponsors have also pulled out, leaving the tournament with around 80 percent fewer prizes than in past years. It was reported that on the second day of the event had only 12 gifts, the third 10, and according to the Mainichi, today saw only 11. Understandable that Japanese companies are pulling out sponsorship in the face of scandal (some of us probably remember the heat sponsors gave poor Tsuyoshi Kusanagi after his romp in Roppongi), but it certainly can’t be very encouraging for wrestlers who are already battling it out to a bunch of empty seats.