A 28-year-old sumo wrestler has died in Japan after contracting coronavirus and suffering multiple organ failure, becoming the ancient sport's first COVID-19 fatality, the national association said.
Shobushi, a lower-ranking wrestler belonging to the Takadagawa stable in Tokyo, died early Wednesday after battling the disease for more than a month.
He developed a fever over April 4-5 but had trouble contacting the local public health office because phone lines were constantly busy, the Sumo Association said in a statement.
He was then turned away by several hospitals before finally being admitted to a Tokyo hospital on the evening of April 8 after he started coughing up blood, it added.
An initial coronavirus test there came back negative but he then tested positive on April 10 after being transferred to another hospital, where he was placed in intensive care on April 19.
Sumo association chief Hakkaku, who uses a single name, said the news was devastating.
“We cannot find any words to say when we think about the broken hearts of his family.
“It must have been so very painful to fight the disease for over a month but, like a sumo wrestler, he persevered and endured, fighting to the very end,” Hakkaku said.
“We only wish that he rests in peace now," he added, thanking medical workers for their care.
28 year old sumo wrestler Shobushi dies from Covid-19. Important point in this story is that when he first went to hospital in April with symptoms he was turned away.
— Phillip Jackson (@pjacksonmusic) May 13, 2020
Awful to hear young sumo wrestler Shobushi (28) has passed away from coronavirus. Dreadful to hear the battle he and his family had getting treatment. Also seems he was unable to get through to the public health centre for advice (shocking failure of the system). RIP. #Japan pic.twitter.com/tYid4O94YO
— Melanie Brock (@melaniebrockjpn) May 13, 2020
— Ippei Ichimaru (市丸一平) (@jiujitsujazz) May 13, 2020
The Japanese government neglected COVID-19 measures and claimed the life of a sumo wrestler.The dead sumo wrestler's name is SHOBUSHI (real name is SUETAKE), and he was 28 years old.Public health centers and hospitals did not respond. He died on May 13th.
— car_jp (@kansai8_6) May 13, 2020
Sandanme rikishi Shobushi dies aged 28 from organ failure caused by coronavirus.
This hits me like a truck 😔
Rest in Peace, big guy.
My condolences are going out to his family, friends and loved ones. https://t.co/Y30ZoFq5PQ
— Hakkeyoi! Sumo News and Stats (@Hakkeyoi_Sumo) May 13, 2020
Sad news. CV19 takes a rikishi from us. ShoBuShi, of Takadagawa (that was in the news because of infected rikishi) has died of multiple organ failure at only 28. Was known to a cheerful guy; suffered from diabetes.. https://t.co/s1zuXJF7cb
— SumoSoul 相撲魂 (@TheSumoSoul) May 13, 2020
Virus wreaks havoc on sumo wrestling
A handful of low-ranking wrestlers and trainees as well as a sumo stable master have tested positive for the virus in Japan.
The outbreak has also forced the association to cancel its upcoming tournament, which had been scheduled for this month.
A basho has only been cancelled one other time in over half a century, in 2011, over a bout-fixing scandal.
The spring basho, held in March in Osaka, took place without spectators, with wrestlers surrounded by just a handful of judges in the empty arena.
But it was broadcast live on national TV, where viewers could hear sounds normally drowned out by the crowd, including wrestlers slapping their bellies and scraping their feet on the clay ring.
Some rituals were amended, including the traditional ladle of water that a winning wrestler offers to the next in the ring.
There are usually six tournaments across Japan each year and the association says it hopes to hold the one following this month's cancelled basho behind closed doors.
The coronavirus outbreak in Japan has been smaller than in many countries, with around 16,000 cases and 668 deaths confirmed so far, but the government has declared a state of emergency nationwide.