Fri, Aug 24, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Sumo chief says he might send champ home to recuperate

AFP , TOKYO

Sumo grand champion Asashoryu lifts a Bridgestone tyre at the racetrack in Suzuka, central Japan, on Oct. 8 last year. The troubled Mongolian yokozuna was on Wednesday allowed out of his apartment for the first time in three weeks so that he could see a psychiatrist.

PHOTO: EPA

The head of the Japan Sumo Association said yesterday he was open to letting mentally troubled grand champion Asashoryu return home to Mongolia to recuperate.

Sumo authorities had earlier opposed leniency for Asashoryu, who is said to be reeling from unprecedented punishment imposed after he chose to take part in a charity soccer game in Mongolia over a non-competition sumo tour in Japan.

But the association's head director Kitanoumi, who uses only one name, said the sumo world wanted the top-ranked wrestler to get better.

"Returning home is one way to do it," Kitanoumi said, as quoted by Kyodo News.

The board of the sumo association still needs to approve letting Asashoryu head home, an option advocated by the sporting body's chief doctor.

Asashoryu, 26, emerged from his apartment late on Wednesday for the first time in three weeks and headed to a Tokyo hotel to see a psychiatrist.

Asashoryu, who had refused to appear in public ever since his punishment, was seen in television footage sporting an untidy beard with his hair loosely tied in the back.

He will stay at the hotel for the time being, where he will be treated both for mental problems and injuries to his elbow and lower back.

The images are a stark change for Asashoryu, the fifth-ranked wrestler in sumo history, who has long faced criticism from Japanese fans that he is too ostentatious for the ritual-heavy sport.

Asashoryu skipped a provincial tour citing injuries, but came under fire when he was caught on camera cheerfully playing soccer for charity in Mongolia.

The sumo association earlier this month banned the yokozuna from competition until late November, slashed his pay and ordered him not to leave home except for medical visits and training.

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