Hakuho to miss Autumn Basho meet with stable barred due to COVID-19 cases

Yokozuna Hakuho and his stablemates will miss the entire Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament starting this weekend after two wrestlers at Miyagino stable tested positive for COVID-19, the Japan Sumo Association said Monday.

Nineteen-year-old wrestler Hokuseiho, in the second division of jūryō tested positive on Wednesday before further tests on Sunday found that another lower-division wrestler was positive.

The JSA’s communications director, Shibatayama, said wrestlers, including record 45-time winner Hakuho and Ishiura, fighting in the top makuuchi division, are in quarantine at home.

The JSA has so far barred entire stables from participating if any member tested positive within two weeks of a 15-day grand tournament’s first day.

The Autumn meet will start on Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, and Hakuho’s absence boosts the chances that the new yokozuna Terunofuji can mark his promotion to the highest rank with a title. Hakuho denied him his third straight Emperor’s Cup in July.

Hakuho missed the January Grand Sumo Tournament after being infected with COVID-19 and pulled out early in the March meet, needing knee surgery that kept him out of the May tournament.

But the 36-year-old bounced back by winning his record-extending championship in July with a perfect 15-0 record in Nagoya, beating Terunofuji for the title after both went into the final day’s decider on the back of 14 straight wins.

“He gets attention in both positive and negative ways, but the air of excitement (inside venues) does differ,” said a JSA senior official about Hakuho, whose wrestling style and attitude have drawn flak over the years as not befitting of a yokozuna.

Another sumo elder said he “can’t see anyone (other than Hakuho) being able to match Terunofuji,” who dropped from the second-highest rank of ozeki to fifth-tier jonidan division in March 2019 due to knee surgeries and health issues before making an unprecedented comeback.

The JSA is planning to cap the number of spectators at 5,000, half the capacity of Ryogoku Kokugikan. The capital is under a state of emergency through Sunday, but it is likely to be extended.

There were no COVID-19-related absences in the May and July tournaments.

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