The resignation of Japan Sumo Association chairman Kitanoumi last Monday was just the latest in a litany of black eyes for sumo.
In fact, the 55-year-old former yokozuna illustrates precisely why sumo is in its current state.
He was the head of the JSA for more than six years, but under his tenure things didn’t stay the same, they got progressively worse.
What defies comprehension is his seeming unawareness to what was going on around him and refusal to take responsibility until an incredible amount of harm had been done to sumo’s standing with the public.
So clueless was Kitanoumi that he practically had to be strong-armed out the door. It is precisely this kind of stubbornness and arrogance that has brought sumo to this point.
Kitanoumi should have been forced out last year, following the beating death of Tokitaizan, a young wrestler in the Tokitsukaze stable, but passed the buck and continued on.
When Russian wrestler Wakanoho was expelled by the JSA last month following his arrest for possession of marijuana, Kitanoumi again had a chance to take responsibility but refused. It was a pathetic show of power.
Only after the most recent embarrassment, the failure of Russian wrestlers Roho and Hakurozan (a member of Kitanoumi’s stable) to pass drug tests administered by the JSA, and prodding from his colleagues, did Kitanoumi finally go.
Gallagher also suggests some innovations that might help revitaize the sport.
• Make better geographic use of the six annual tournaments. Having half of them in Tokyo every year makes no sense at all. Hold one in Sapporo and another in Sendai.
• Change the starting times of the makuuchi bouts. Having them on television between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day makes it very difficult for a large number of viewers to see them live. People are either at work, on their way home, or otherwise occupied.
• Establish a marketing department that knows how to do something besides just pick up the phone. Take a page out of the J. League’s book and be aggressive. Target youngsters and female fans.
• Archive all of the tournaments’ videos on the Internet with commentary in English. With the time difference it is tough for folks outside of Japan to see the bouts live. The one place that sumo has retained its interest is with fans overseas. Give them a better chance to follow the sport and increase the international fan base.