Sumo tournaments postponed as Japan's coronavirus cases spread

TOKYO: Two sumo tournaments scheduled for later this year have been postponed, the Japanese sumo association said on Friday, the latest sporting events to be victims of the coronavirus spreading in Japan.

The next basho or sumo tournament, scheduled to open on May 10 in Tokyo, the host city of the next Olympic Games , which was postponed until 2021, will be delayed by two weeks, the JSA said. The July tournament suffered the same fate.

The JSA has not yet decided whether the tournaments will be held without spectators, a spokesperson told AFP.

Today we just rescheduled the two tournaments, but we cannot say anything more since the situation is changing day by day, he said.

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The spring tournament, held last month in Osaka, took place without a crowd, the fighters surrounded by a handful of judges in the empty arena.

However, it was broadcast live on national television, allowing viewers to hear sounds that are normally drowned out by the crowd, such as wrestlers punching their bellies and scraping their feet in the clay ring.

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During that tournament, all wrestlers' temperatures were checked twice a day as rituals were modified, including the traditional spoon of water that a winning wrestler offers to the next in the ring.

Sumo stars have been taking precautions at fan events, avoiding shaking hands and wearing surgical masks, while a ceremonial visit to a shrine was canceled.

The spectatorless sumo tournament came after the government asked operators of sports and entertainment venues to consider canceling or postponing mass gatherings to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Late Friday, Japan's professional baseball and football leagues abandoned plans to play in April after receiving warnings from infectious control experts.

Nippon Professional Baseball, which had already delayed this season's opening until April 24, decided to extend its postponement.

Meanwhile, football 's J-League -- scheduled to resume games in late April -- also withdrew plans without setting a resumption date.

Earlier this week, organisers said the Tokyo Olympic Games would begin on July 23 next year after the coronavirus forced the historic decision to postpone the 2020 Games until 2021.

Japan has seen a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, but a recent spike in Tokyo has fuelled speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe it will soon declare a state of emergency.

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