Japan female mayor loses fight to speak from sumo ring

Mayor Nakagawa (C) delivers a speech from outside the sumo ring

Tokyo (AFP) – A female Japanese mayor was barred Friday from delivering a speech inside a sumo ring a day after controversy erupted over a longstanding ban on women entering the sport’s rings.

On Thursday Japan’s sumo association chief made headlines at home and abroad after issuing an apology to several women who were ordered out of a sumo ring while trying to offer life-saving medical assistance.

Women are traditionally banned from sumo rings, which are sacred spaces in the Shinto religion from which the sport emerged, because they are considered “ritually unclean”.

On Friday mayor Tomoko Nakagawa from the western city of Takarazuka slammed a decision to prevent her from delivering a speech from a sumo ring, something her male counterparts have regularly done.

“I’m a female mayor but I am a human being,” she said in a speech delivered from a podium sited outside the ring.

“But because I am a woman, despite being a mayor, I cannot make a speech in the ring.”

“It is regrettable and mortifying,” she said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Nakagawa delivered a speech from outside the ring last year, when the city hosted a tournament, but said she had not realised she was being prevented from entering the ring because of her gender.

After seeing a male mayor deliver a speech from inside the ring, she unsuccessfully petitioned sumo authorities to extend her the same right.

“We may have a female prime minister some day… I want them to think about whether they would hold her back,” she said.

“Isn’t it important to have the courage to reform while keeping tradition?”

City spokesman Yuki Miyata told AFP the association had cited “tradition” in rejecting Nakagawa’s request, adding that the mayor planned to make the request again the next time the city hosts a sumo tournament.

Among the male officials who have delivered speeches from inside sumo rings is the mayor of the western city of Maizuru, who collapsed Wednesday while addressing the audience at a bout.

When several women, among them a nurse, rushed to help him, an announcement was made repeatedly over loudspeakers asking them to leave the ring.

The sumo association chief, who goes by the name Hakkaku, described the announcements as “an inappropriate act in a situation that involves one’s life”.

“We deeply apologise,” he added, thanking the women for their help.

The incident sparked an uproar in Japan, which lags behind many countries on gender equality.

But the government declined to comment Friday, citing the sumo association’s status as a “private entity”.