A Japanese sumo wrestler died a month after falling on his head during a match in a case that raised questions about the sport’s response to medical emergencies. Hibikiryu, 28, died of acute respiratory failure on Wednesday, the Japan Sumo Association said Thursday.
The wrestler, whose real name was Mitsuki Amano, was thrown by his opponent during a tournament match on March 26. Footage from the fight showed that he fell heavily on his head and lay face down for several minutes while sumo wrestlers watched and waited for paramedics to arrive.
On a stretcher, the wrestler was conscious and told sumo wrestlers that he felt his lower body was paralyzed, but his condition was improving at the hospital, the Nikkan Sports newspaper reported.
Sumo officials told Japanese media that it was not known whether Hibikiryu’s death was linked to his injury. There was no immediate comment from his family. According to reports in the Japanese media, there were no medical experts ready to give him first aid. Wrestlers are usually expected to stand alone while medical experts are at the tournament venue, but do not stand near the ring.
The ancient Japanese sport, which was originally part of a Shinto religious ritual, has faced calls for reform, including emergency medical care and bans on women entering the ring, which is considered sacred.
In 2018, the association came under fire after asking a nurse and other women to leave the ring they had entered to provide first aid to an employee who collapsed. Hibikiryu debuted in 2011 and climbed to 24th place in the class of 200 members of Sandanme, the fourth highest of the six classes in sumo.
Another young lower-level sumo wrestler, Shobushi, died last May at the age of 28 after contracting a coronavirus and developing pneumonia.