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The Fight For Women In Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling is recognized as the national sport of Japan. It’s also traditionally been a male-only sport, but it’s gaining popularity among women and they are fighting for their place in history.


Sumo wrestling  is recognized as the national sport of Japan. It’s also traditionally been a male-only sport, but it’s gaining popularity among women and they are fighting for their place in history.

Photo Credit: Google Reuse

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Japan’s National Sports

  • Sumo wrestling originated in Japan and is recognized as its national sport. 
  • The history of sumo wrestling dates back to over 2,000 years, however it gained popularity and began to develop into a professional sport during the Edo period (1603-1868).
  • Today, Japan is still the only country where sumo is practiced professionally.

Photo Credit: Google Reuse

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Controversies

  • Despite its popularity, sumo has faced multiple controversies including match-fixing, gambling, hazing, and exclusion of women.
  • Match-fixing is when tournaments are organized unfairly in order to predetermine the result of a match.
  • In 2011, a case was held and 14 professional wrestlers were guilty of match-fixing for money.

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Ancient Rituals & Traditions

  • Professional sumo has always been a “male only” sport.
  • Sumo wrestling and the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) rules are strongly based on religious rituals and traditions.
  • The exclusion of women in sumo wrestling stems from traditional Shinto and Buddhist beliefs which state that women are “impure” due to menstruation.
  • Based on these traditions, women are not allowed to enter sumo rings because the rings are considered to be scared grounds.

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Values v. Morals

  • In 2018, a Japanese mayor collapsed from a stroke while giving a speech at a match.
  • Multiple women rushed into the ring to perform first-aid during the medical emergency.
  • A referee began to repeatedly announce that the women must get out of the ring.
  • After the event gained public visibility and received criticism, the head of the sumo wrestling association, Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, stated his apology.
  • Hakkaku thanked the women for their help but made it clear that these circumstances are only acceptable in life-threatening situations.

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Seeking Professional Status

  • Many women have fought and petitioned for the sumo association’s ban against women to be lifted.
  • A petition was created against the JSA.
  • The following statement was made in the petition: “The president [of the JSA] was born from a woman who menstruated. If sumo is sacred, the physiology of a woman who gives birth is also sacred.” 
  • Although the petition was unsuccessful, there were over 17,000 signatures.

Photo Credit: Google Reuse

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They’re Still Fighting

  • The JSA is showing no signs of changing their policies anytime soon, but the sport is continuing to gain popularity at the ametuer level for women.
  • Women are continuing to fight for equality, competing in sumo at colleges, local tournaments, and even in Women’s World Championships.

Photo Credit: Google Reuse

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Netflix Documentary: Little Miss Sumo

  • In 2018, a short Netflix documentary was released which confronted the gender equality issues in sumo wrestling.
  • The documentary is a story about Hiyori Kon, a women in sumo who is passionate about fighting gender issues.
  • “I believe that as a result of my hard work,” said Kon, “women’s sumo will stop facing discrimination. I will continue to strive for it with that belief.” 

Photo Credit: Google Reuse