The Japan Sumo Association has decided to examine its traditional policy of prohibiting women from entering the dohyo ring, including asking for opinions through a questionnaire survey.

Calls have been made recently to revise the prohibition policy. During a Grand Sumo spring regional tour in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, several women, including a nurse, were asked to leave the dohyo even though they had entered to provide first aid to a mayor who had collapsed on the ring during his address.

A young gyoji referee repeatedly made inappropriate announcements over the PA system, saying, “Women are kindly requested to step down from the ring.”

In addition, Tomoko Nakagawa, the female mayor of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, was asked to deliver her speech from beside the ring during a tour.

JSA Chairman Hakkaku issued a statement at a Saturday board member meeting at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo apologizing for the inappropriate handling of the case in Maizuru again and the confusion over the policy incurred by these events.

In the statement, Hakkaku cited three reasons for why women are not allowed to enter the dohyo: Sumo has its origins in Shinto ritual; preserving Grand Sumo’s traditional culture is important; and for rikishi sumo wrestlers, the dohyo of Grand Sumo is a sacred place for fighting and discipline that men ascend to.

Hakkaku directly rejected criticism that the association’s policy of not allowing women to enter the dohyo is based on the premise that women are considered unclean, saying that idea comes from a “misunderstanding.” He also said oyakata stablemasters’ basic principle is that the dohyo is a “sacred place for fighting and discipline,” and that they have no intention of discriminating against women.

“The idea of the dohyo as a male-only world that no woman is allowed to enter has been passed down for many years,” Hakkaku explained.

In the statement, Hakkaku expressed his intention to examine the policy by taking into account opinions from outside the association, saying, “We kindly request more time.”

Regarding cases in which girls were asked to refrain from participating in children’s sumo events, Hakkaku denied that the association applied the policy to children’s events. Hakkaku said the decision was made after considering concerns about potential injuries to children, concerns that had been raised by sekitori — wrestlers in the uppermost makuuchi and juryo divisions — and others.

According to Hakkaku, during the spring regional tours, there were reports of two cases of injuries involving boys who took part in children’s sumo events. The association will suspend the events until establishing safety measures for children, while reexamining whether girls will participate in events.