The media's double standard detracts from sumo

The banzuke is great, ticket sales are soaring, television ratings are up, big-name sponsors are in, and the quality of sumo is better, so I just don't understand how two weeks prior to a hon-basho the media can actually focus more coverage on a complete non-event instead of hyping the basho, producing better keiko reports, and focusing on the Japanese up-and-comers. The non-event I'm talking about was Asashoryu's attendance at a yearly event in Tokyo called the Shibuya Girls Collection where women's fashion and a few music artists were on display. As widely reported in the Japanese media, on March 8th, Asashoryu headed home to Tokyo to film a commercial for the soft drink Fanta after which he made an appearance at the fashion event still in costume dressed as a junior high school exchange student named Fantaro.

The first few days in Osaka, the media tried to create a mountain out of a molehill stating that Asashoryu was being irresponsible, that he was compromising sumo for his own interests, that he was not taking his preparation for the basho seriously, and that he was up to his usual bad behavior unbecoming of a Yokozuna. They were skewing comments from members of the YDC and fabricating ridiculous headlines, all in an effort to discredit the Yokozuna's achievements atop the dohyo. The Daily Yomiuri's sports page, called Sports Hochi, summed up the attitude of the media with this paragraph in an article published March 3rd:

"His participation in the event shows his popularity, but the problem is day 1 of the tournament is just one week after. It is abnormal behavior for a rikishi to go back to Tokyo for his "side job" during this most important time of preparation, and the stress on his body will be big. He is scheduled to appear at the event at 6 PM, so he may be able to practice that morning, but if he misses practice on the morning of the 9th, it will surely raise voices of criticism. He is coming off of a comeback yusho that included some tears after defeating his rival, Hakuho, in a playoff, but along with the return of his strength, he is creating problems once again that show a lack of dignity like giving a guts pose atop the dohyo. He is just returning from a vacation from Hawaii. He does have approval from the Sumo Association, but this is unacceptable behavior. Is he really in that good of shape? Or is this just another case of negligence on his part? It looks as if once again we will be unable to take our eyes off of this "troublesome Yokozuna"."

Asashoryu had had enough and finally rebuked the media in a press conference correctly informing them that it wasn't ethical that they were implying he was selfish and putting his own interests ahead of sumo. Asashoryu had the blessing of the Sumo Association from the beginning and emphasized that both parties decided on the move even though the reporting in some publications implied otherwise. After Asashoryu called the media out, the negative reports ceased until after he actually attended the event. Asashoryu was scheduled to fly back to Osaka after his appearance, but he ended up taking the stage about an hour after he was originally slated, and as a result, he opted to spend the night in Tokyo and fly out first thing in the morning where he went to the Sakaigawa-beya directly from the airport for keiko. So what is the headlines from Sport's Hochi the next day? "Asashoryu is a liar."

Asashoryu is a liar because he adjusted his schedule and spent the night in Tokyo instead of Osaka? Who cares whether Asashoryu takes a late flight and gets to bed late or goes to bed early and catches the first flight out in the morning? Is this really what sumo coverage has come to? Since when does holding press credentials in Japan give one license to stalk an individual? As I've blogged and correctly stated over and over, the media is trying to tear down Asashoryu's character in order to belittle his accomplishments in the ring because he is a foreigner.

What was the Sumo Association's reaction to Asashoryu's behavior? As quoted by Ayako Suzuki, head of the Association's PR office, "The Association, his stable master, and Asashoryu all understood his keiko schedule. The event was aimed at young people, and it was good PR for us to win new fans." Yuh think? With sumo suffering from bad publicity as often as Mitsuru Yaku regurgitates an uninformed sumo take, they have to market themselves to a new niche of fans. It was an easy call for the Sumo Association, so to see the Japanese press completely twist things around in their attempt to soil Asashoryu's character further is despicable. If you think I'm overstating things, consider these examples.

When a rikishi besides Asashoryu takes a day of keiko off, the press uses the word "yasumu," which means to sit out or take a break. When Asashoryu takes a day of keiko off, they use the word "saboru," a negative connotation which means to slough or skip out--a clear double standard.

Hakuho sat out practice on March 3rd. The headlines surrounding his day off? "Hakuho performs a dohyo-iri and prays for the safety of the rikishi." Where's the outrage? Hakuho is failing to seriously prepare for the basho! How unbecoming of a Yokozuna! Asashoryu practiced on March 3rd and then took March 4th off. So the resulting headline from Nikkansports on March 4th? "Asashoryu is already skipping out on practice!" using the term "saboru" of course. In the March 3rd article, Hakuho stated to the press that "he would begin his practice sessions tomorrow." So the next day comes around only to find out that Hakuho's practice mawashi wasn't packed, so he's unable to do any keiko. Does that make Hakuho a liar? According to Japanese media logic it does. The media reported Hakuho's mishap as a matter of circumstance, but if that had happened to Asashoryu, the headlines would have been sensational asking how a Yokozuna could have been so careless.

Now let's talk about troublesome behavior. It was reported prior to the Hatsu basho that Kotomitsuki was suffering from gout, a condition brought about by excessive consumption of alcohol. The news was reported as matter of fact and that was that. We all remember that Kotomitsuki came out in Hatsu a paltry 2-9 and then withdrew from the tournament altogether citing an ankle injury that was non-existent. So my question is...why isn't the media making a big deal out of that? Talk about irresponsible behavior. Kotomitsuki was the highest-ranking Japanese rikishi on the Hatsu basho banzuke. You'd think he'd take his responsibility more seriously and lay off the hooch...what with the basho less than a week away. How does the Japanese media jump all over Asashoryu for such a non-incident where he is actually doing PR work for the Association, yet they give Kotomitsuki a total pass? Don't bother answering that; I already know.

It just baffles me that Asashoryu's attending that event in Tokyo has generated 10 times the amount of press compared to the drug testing methods employed by the Sumo Association back in September where four rikishi tested positive for marijuana. The two foreigners were kicked out while the two Japanese rikishi were let go. Sure, Wakakirin's bust for possession last month garnered headlines for a few days, but the press never devoted a full article questioning the circumstances surrounding the testing only opting to mention it in a passing sentence near the end of a paragraph here and there.

The first keiko report I read in Osaka of course focused on Asashoryu when he stayed at home to battle Makushita rikishi from his own stable. What made bigger news was the fact that the Takasago-beya installed metal detectors at the entrance to the stable and would only allow one reporter and one photographer from each accredited agency in to watch keiko. The press of course seemed annoyed by this, but what do they expect? They are the ones creating this monster that really doesn't exist. Asashoryu received a death threat during the Hatsu basho, and who knows what other threats the stable has received? Asashoryu has to beef up his security for one reason: the Japanese media are inciting hate and disdain towards him among the general public because he is a foreigner and because he is threatening the records of the Japanese legends. A great number of Japanese fans are thankfully filtering out the bias and the bullying, and this shows in the increase of ticket sales, sponsors, and television ratings when Asashoryu is present, so to see members of the Japanese media continue to push the anti-Asashoryu agenda and employ their double standard by twisting the truth, fabricating sensational headlines, and using tired quotes from an anime artist of all people is outright embarrassing.

Bring the focus back to the dohyo!





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