The Japan Sumo Association said Tuesday that record-breaking sumo champion Hakuho tested positive for Covid-19 only days before the New Year’s tournament.
The JSA said that after finding a lack of scent, Hakuho was checked, and that other Miyagino stable members who are suspected to have come into touch with him will be tested Tuesday.
The 35-year-old Mongolian, who has won a record 44 tournaments and holds the highest yokozuna rank in sumo, was preparing for the 15-day Grand Sumo New Year Tournament, which begins in Tokyo on Sunday.
His involvement in the basho, or tournament, was as yet uncertain, but the tournament was expected to go ahead as planned, a JSA spokesperson said.
Hakuho’s infection follows the infection of top-division wrestler Wakatakakage after 11 members of the Arashio stable tested positive last week.
Local media confirmed that stablemaster Arashio, a hairdresser and eight lower-division wrestlers were involved in the latest cases.
On Monday, a gyoji, or referee, from another stable, also tested positive after complaining of a fever and cough.
Since contracting the virus and undergoing multiple organ failure, a 20-year-old sumo wrestler died last May in Japan.
But the very first wrestler from both the top ranks of the sport to test positive for the virus was Hakuho.
Since March, when he won the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka, he has been struggling with a knee injury and has not finished a tournament.
This year, he withdrew from three consecutive tournaments and received an official notice in November from the JSA along with fellow yokozuna Kakuryu for repeated absences.
The warning is the strongest rebuke of the sport, short of suggesting retirement.
At the age of 15, Hakuho, who was born Munkhbat Davaajargal, came to Japan to enter the world of sumo and gained Japanese citizenship in September 2019.
Japan is fighting a third wave of infections at the moment, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying he was considering declaring a state of emergency in the greater Tokyo region on Monday.
On Tuesday, Tokyo reported 1,278 new infections, according to local media, the second-highest figure after the 1,337 reported on New Year’s Eve.