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Hakuho victorious on Day 1 in front of empty arena大相撲、無観客で開催

The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament opens March 8 at an empty Edion Arena Osaka.© KYODO
Level

Hakuho made a winning start to the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on March 8, overpowering Endo at an empty Edion Arena Osaka.

The 15-day tournament is taking place behind closed doors after the Japan Sumo Association earlier this month made the unprecedented decision to keep out spectators in order to help combat the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Before the top-division bouts kicked off, JSA Chairman Hakkaku delivered an address in which he thanked sumo fans for their continued support despite the tournament being held under such unusual conditions.

“For the wrestlers, this meet will be very difficult, but we are grateful for fans voicing encouragement,” Hakkaku said.

Former ozeki Kotoshogiku likened competing in the subdued atmosphere to a religious rite.

“It has a sanctified feel to it, like going to a (Shinto) shrine,” said the 36-year-old now fighting near the bottom of the upper-division rankings as a No. 13 maegashira.

Yokozuna Hakuho is aiming to extend his record for career championships to 44. Both he and fellow Mongolian-­born yokozuna Kakuryu pulled out of the previous New Year Grand Sumo Tournament in January due to injuries.

Hakuho opened with a hard slap to the face of komusubi Endo, who appeared to lose his footing before getting yanked to the clay by the all-time great, who took Japanese citizenship last year. (Kyodo)

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