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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Sumo Stablemaster Miyagino Demoted as Punishment for Wrestler's Violence at Stable

Emphasizing the stablemaster's responsibility for his wrestler's behavior, the JSA cut his pay and demoted the winningest yokozuna in sumo history by two ranks.

Retired yokozuna Hakuho has received a two-rank demotion as a sumo elder from the Japan Sumo Association due to his protege Hokuseiho's repeated violence against two junior wrestlers at Miyagino stable.

Sumo's governing body made the announcement on Friday, February 23.

What's more, Hakuho, now formally known as stablemaster Miyagino, will not oversee his stable during the upcoming Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, which gets underway on March 10. Instead, an acting stablemaster will fill that role.

A Promising Sumo Wrestler's Career is Over

The JSA had planned to make a formal request for Hokuseiho, 22, to retire, according to multiple published reports. But he said on Friday that his career is finished. The Mongolian-born wrestler made his professional sumo debut in March 2020, and he reached as high as No 6 maegashira.

Hokuseiho puts the finishing touches on a victory over Asanoyama on July 13, 2023. (KYODO)

Hokuseiho, whose given name is Ariunaa Davaaninj, was considered a strong up-and-coming wrestler. 

But starting in July 2022, he repeatedly channeled violence against two younger wrestlers at the stable, the JSA announced based on its compliance committee's findings. Hokuseiho's unacceptable behavior included "slapping their faces, backs and testicles, hitting their buttocks with a broom handle and lighting insecticide spray to project flames at them," Kyodo News reported.

sumo
Expressing remorse, Miyagino (left) and wrestler Hokuseiho bow during a press conference in Tokyo on February 23. (KYODO)

Sumo Legend Faces Major Rebuke

The full gravity of the situation was apparent in Miyagino's remarks to reporters on Friday — and in the JSA's rebuke of the sumo legend.

"I failed to protect my disciples, and I take that responsibility very seriously," Miyagino, 38, was quoted as saying by The Asahi Shimbun.

The JSA said Miyagino "lacks the training and awareness of a master," Nikkan Sports reported.

With the demotion, the winningest yokozuna in sumo history (45 Emperor's Cups) slipped from iin (committee member) to toshiyori (elder), the lowest rank. He also was forced to take a 20% pay cut for three months.

Miyagino claimed he did not know that Hokuseiho was abusing the junior wrestlers for more than a year, starting in July 2022.

Now, Miyagino is under the watchful eye of the JSA. Future rule violations at the stable could likely lead to the end of his tenure as a sumo elder.  

In the hierarchy of punishment meted out to sumo elders, demotion ranks third on the list of seven items. At the top? A retirement recommendation is No 2 and No 1 is banishment from the Japan Sumo Association.

Well-publicized hazing scandals and bullying by wrestlers and stablemasters against younger wrestlers and other violent incidents away from the dohyo or training stables have cast a negative light on Japan's ancient sport in recent decades.

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Kodai Senga in a February 2023 file photo. (KYODO)

Baseball

Mets' Senga Sidelined with a Shoulder Ailment

New York Mets starting pitcher Kodai Senga has experienced shoulder fatigue in recent days after a pair of training sessions at the team's spring training complex in Port St Lucie, Florida. 

As a result, the Mets are taking a cautious approach to Senga's preparations for the season.

"We're going to shut him down until these symptoms subside and strength returns to his normal levels," said David Stearns, the team's president of baseball operations, according to The Associated Press, on Thursday, February 21. "Once that happens, we can begin to ramp him up and then go through his normal spring training progression."

Senga, coming off a 12-7 season with a 2.98 ERA in 2023, is in the second year of a five-year contract with the Mets. He previously pitched for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Speaking through a translator, the 31-year-old Senga said he's able to throw his fastball at top speeds right now. But while dealing with shoulder pain he said patience is important at this stage of preseason training.

"The game isn't about throwing fast," was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. "It's about getting hitters out and I feel like at this point I am not going to be able to perform at the highest level. So giving it a bit of time is the right move."

Los Angeles Dodgers newcomer Yoshinobu Yamamoto pitches in the bullpen during a spring training workout on February 17 at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Yamamoto Expected to Start Dodgers' Opener in Seoul

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters on Tuesday that newcomer Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the team's likely starting pitcher for its MLB season opener against the San Diego Padres.

The Dodgers and Padres will play a two-game series on March 20-21 in Seoul.

"I think that's a safe bet," Roberts was quoted as saying by Kyodo News in Glendale, Arizona. "It's fair to say that that's our hope, but I'm not beholden to that if it doesn't make sense."

On the opening night of the 2024 J.League season, Sanfrecce Hiroshima fans root for the home team at its new stadium, Edion Peace Wing Hiroshima, during a match against the Urawa Reds on February 23. (KYODO)

Soccer

Sanfrecce Open New Stadium with a Victory Over the Reds

The 2024 J.League season kicked off on Friday, February 23, and the new campaign featured the first official match at a new stadium. 

Sanfrecce Hiroshima recorded a 2-0 win over the Urawa Reds at Edion Peace Wing Hiroshima, which seats 28,520. Forward Yuki Ohashi notched goals in the 45th and 55th minutes to keep the home crowd in a celebratory mood during the stadium's opening game.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima players celebrate Yuki Ohashi's second goal of the match. (KYODO)

"I'm really happy to have scored two goals and contributed to the team winning," Ohashi said, according to Kyoto News. "Debuting for the club on this historic day at the new stadium, I wanted to live up to the efforts of everyone who helped build such a fantastic ground."

Also Friday, the visiting Kashima Antlers defeated the Nagoya Grampus 3-0, with Hayato Nakama leading the victors with two goals. 

Players representing J.League first-division teams pose for a commemorative photo on February 19 in Tokyo. The 2024 season kicked off on February 23. (© SANKEI by Norikazu Fukushima)

Asian Champions League Update: Marinos Advance to Quarterfinals

Anderson Lopes converted a penalty in second-half additional time to lift Yokohama F Marinos to a 1-0 triumph over Bangkok United in an Asian Champions League round of 16 second-leg match on Wednesday, February 21. Marinos advanced to the quarterfinals with a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Yokohama, guided by Australian manager Harry Kewell, will face Chinese side Shandong Taishan in the ACL quarterfinals.

After leading Marinos past Bangkok United and into the ACL quarterfinals for the first time in franchise history, Lopes said the team's competitive spirit paid off.

"We fought from start to finish, [and] we really wanted to get this win. And I have to praise the whole team," the Brazilian standout said, according to Kyodo News.

"I knew we'd never gotten this far, and we made history. We won't be satisfied here and will work as a team to get past the next round, too." 

In other ACL news, J.League second-division club Ventforet Kofu were eliminated in the round of 16, losing 2-1 in the second leg on Wednesday at Tokyo's National Stadium and 5-1 on aggregate to South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai. 

Kazushi Mitsuhira ensured that Ventforet wouldn't be blanked for the second straight clash against Ulsan, scoring an 88th-minute goal in the rematch.

Koki Ikeda, a silver medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, crosses the finish line before anyone else in the men's 20-kilometer race walk at the national championships on February 18 in Kobe. (KYODO)

Track and Field

Race Walk Champions Ikeda, Fujii Punch Tickets to Paris Olympics

Koki Ikeda and Nanako Fujii were victorious in the men's and women's 20-km race walk events at the national championships on Sunday, February 18 in Kobe.

Both winners qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics in their respective events.

Ikeda, the silver medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Games, finished first in a blistering 1 hour, 16 minutes, 51 seconds on the Konan University course on Rokko island. And it was the third-fastest 20-km time in history. Compatriot Yusuke Suzuki clocked a world-record time of 1:16:36 in March 2015.

Fujii, who also competed at the Tokyo Olympics, crossed the line in 1:27:51 to finish on top.

Looking ahead, Ikeda, 25, said he has a clear target for this summer.

"I have been aiming to win a medal at two consecutive Olympics, and now I have earned the right to challenge that goal," Ikeda told NHK.

He added, "I would like to work towards that challenge one day at a time. My biggest goal is to win an Olympic gold medal, but I don't want to put too much pressure on myself."

Nanako Fujii wins the women's 20-kilometer race walk at the national championships on February 18 in Kobe. (KYODO)

Fujii Targets Successful Showing in Paris

Meanwhile, Fujii is aiming for a stronger performance in the French capital than she had in Tokyo in the summer of 2021. She placed 13th overall at the last Olympics.

"In Paris, I hope to compete in the lead group with strong competitors and finish in the top group," Fujii said, according to NHK. The 24-year-old added, "I think it is the really strong athletes who give it their all on this special stage, and I want to be a part of that."

Infielder Rintaro Sasaki stands for a portrait at Hanamaki Higashi High School in Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, on February 20. Sasaki, who is heading to Stanford University this spring, wants to follow in the footsteps of Shohei Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi, former baseball stars at his high school, and play in MLB. (©SANKEI by Keisuke Kato)

Quote of the Week

"This decision was not solely about my baseball career. I still have a long way to go to learn the [English] language. [And] I want to interact with people from various cultures, and learn how to gain knowledge and think." 

—Slugger Rintaro Sasaki told a news conference at Iwate Prefecture's Hanamaki Higashi High School on February 20, reflecting on his decision to select Stanford University to further his studies and baseball career, multiple media outlets reported.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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