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Japan's ancient sport sumo grapples with coronavirus

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's ancient sport of sumo is grappling with the harsh reality of the coronavirus outbreak. The Spring Grand Sumo Tournament kicked off on Sunday in Osaka at Edion Arena with no spectators as part of Japan's extraordinary efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

Wrestlers arrived wearing face masks and were required to use hand-sanitizing spray before entering the arena. They were also required to take their temperatures before entering the raised ring. If a wrestler has a temperature above 37.5 degrees for two or more days, he will be forced to sit out the tournament.

Sumo officials have said if a wrestler is diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the 15-day tournament will be immediately halted. Usually contested before a packed house, Sunday's opening day was eerily quiet as wrestlers sat next to judges at ringside to watch the action against a backdrop of empty stands.

“It will be a new experience for all of us," said sekiwake wrestler Asanoyama. “I want to get used to the atmosphere as soon as possible and get focused on the competition." Wrestlers will maintain the time-honored tradition of offering a ladle of “chikara mizu" or power water to another wrestler but will only go through the motions and not put their mouth to the ladle.

Normally, wrestlers often use public transportation to go the arena but are being chauffeured in taxis or hired cars to avoid contact with the general public. The long colorful banners that display the wrestlers names were not on display on Sunday nor were the tradition taiko drums that greet fans as they arrive at the stadium.

Sumo is just one of the main sports in Japan that is taking measures to halt the spread of the virus. Japanese preseason baseball games are being played at empty stadiums, professional J-League soccer games have been cancelled through the first half of March while the season-opening women's JPGA golf tournament in Okinawa was called off.

With Japan set to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in just over four months, the government is taking a series of urgent measures to combat the outbreak including cancelling school. Ït's a real shame," said sumo fan Yuji Hoshino, who caught a few minutes of opening day action on TV at a Tokyo electronics store. “But the safety of the wrestlers is the most important thing. I hope they all stay healthy.”

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