Thu, Apr 16, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Hakuho supports more foreign wrestlers in sumo

AP , TOKYO

Sumo grand champion Hakuho laughs during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

Grand champion Hakuho wants to see sumo opened up to more foreign wrestlers and hopes Japan’s ancient sport will someday be included in the Olympics.

“I’d like to see more foreign wrestlers allowed in, but it’s not my decision,” Hakuho, a Mongolian, said yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “I think it would be good for the sport.”

Hakuho is one of nine Mongolians wrestling in sumo’s top division and one of 15 foreign wrestlers in the elite class.

Some sumo traditionalists worry that Japan is being left behind in its own national sport. There hasn’t been a Japanese grand champion since Takanohana retired in January 2003.

There is a move by some in sumo to restrict the number of foreign participants, but Hakuho, whose real name is Munkhbat Davaajargal, does not agree.

“The fans should be allowed to see the best in the world,” said Hakuho, who won his 10th Emperor’s Cup at the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament last month.

While the rules are not clearly defined, each sumo stable is allowed one foreign wrestler and there are 53 stables.

Hakuho and his compatriot ­Asashoryu, who has won 23 titles, have dominated sumo in recent years.

There hasn’t been a Japanese winner of a title since January 2006, when Tochiazuma lifted the Emperor’s Cup.

Hakuho is the fourth foreign wrestler to be promoted to sumo’s highest rank following Asashoryu and Hawaiians Akebono and Musashimaru.

As for the Olympics, Hakuho would love to see sumo on the Olympic program, but knows its an uphill battle.

“I’d be really happy if it became an Olympic sport and would try to do better than my father,” he said.

Hakuho’s father won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

The International Sumo Federation has been pushing to get sumo in the Olympics, but its not on the list of sports under consideration for inclusion on the 2016 Olympic program.

Sumo has been rocked by recent drug scandals involving wrestlers being caught with marijuana, but Hakuho doesn’t see it becoming a bigger problem.

“It was an unfortunate incident, but most people in sumo are working hard to maintain the traditions of the sport,” the grand champion said.

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