Japan’s tradition-steeped sport of sumo was wringing its collective hands on Wednesday after receiving a record-low number of applications from would-be wrestlers.
Just one youngster put his name forward before the season-ending tournament in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, with one established wrestler saying he understood why so few people wanted to undergo the hardships of sumo training.
The sport’s managers said the lone application took the total number this year to just 56.
It was the lowest number of potential new recruits since 1958 when the Japan Sumo Association instituted six regular 15-day tournaments a year, local media reported.
Successful candidates who apply ahead of the tournaments are placed with one of the stables, where they must learn the rigours of life. Junior wrestlers will have to clean and cook for their superiors, amongst other jobs.
“Sumo is a strict sport,” said newly promoted sumo grand champion Harumafuji, blaming the drop in applicants on the harsh tenets of the sumo world.
“I understand that there are people who feel like they need not necessarily go through painful experiences in this time of convenience,” the Mongolia-born champion told Kyodo news agency.
“But that’s why it is great to succeed once you have made efforts and undergone those hardships.”
The popularity of the centuries-old sport has declined in recent years amid a spate of scandals involving sumo stars such as match-fixing, marijuana usage and illegal betting by the wrestlers on professional baseball games.
In 2007 a 17-year-old apprentice died as a result of hazing by seniors at their sumo stable, discouraging young boys from seeking careers in the sport.
In a bid to lure more applicants, the sumo association loosened its physical standards this year and even scrapped a specific test for smaller wrestlers to gauge athletic ability, Kyodo said.