Why women are not allowed in sumo rings—even to save a life

Apr 12, 2018

THERE is more to sumo than fat men grunting. The sport also has a religious dimension: each match is preceded by intricate Shinto rituals. The ring is said to be sacred ground. Women, traditionally considered polluting in Shintoism, are barred from entering it. But many Japanese were nonetheless shocked when the referee at a match earlier this month ordered out of the ring several women who had rushed to give first aid to the local mayor, who had collapsed while giving a speech.

The sumo association later apologised for the referee’s “inappropriate response in the life-threatening situation”, but appeared to stand by the rule. Two days later a female mayor criticised the sport’s sexism in a speech at a sumo tournament, which she had to make from the sidelines of the ring. National politicians have also weighed in.

“Before the incident no one really cared about the restrictive nature of the rule,” says Nagisa Osada, a sports writer, “but it revealed that sumo officials...

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