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Natsu 2020 Banzuke

The Banzuke release is usually a great day in the sumo calendar. Not only does it mean new rankings, showing promotions and demotions, but signals actual live sumo is about to return. Well, the Banzuke is out, but sumo is probably not coming back very soon. So the Banzuke for Natsu 2020 will be a very strange record.

At a minimum, no rikishi will fight off of these rankings for another four weeks, rather than the usual two. Both the May and the July basho were kicked back by two weeks out of concern for the health and safety of rikishi during the COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement came after the 2020 Olympics, to be held in Tokyo, would be postponed a whole year. Some of the Sumo Association's willingness to continue surely stems from the successful, closed-door basho they held in March. If they could monitor everyone and still have a tournament once, why not again?

Well, the coronavirus' spread has gotten worse in Japan, for one thing, and it has hit sumo much more directly, for another. On April 10, a still unnamed wrestler tested positive for coronavirus. While his name and stable have not been revealed, because only sekitori and oyakata will be named, if tested positive, the presence of the virus in sumo was worrying. It got worse. On April 25, Takadagawa oyakata, as well as five of his stable's wrestlers, officially tested positive.

That news might be worse than it initially appears. Takadagawa had to be admitted to a hospital, which seemed to be when he was tested, so his case got relatively serious. Presumably some of the wrestlers that also tested positive were asymptomatic. Juryo wrestler Hakuyozan was positive, but didn't also go to a hospital. The two Maegashira wrestlers, Ryuden and Kagayaki, are apparently fine. Or maybe we should say "apparently" fine, because news has been so thin.

Training has been extremely limited, as the JSA has insisted that keiko only take place if wrestlers do not touch. On the other hand, they took the very sumo stance that it was actually up to the oyakata how this would happen. Whether this basho will actually start on May 24th is still uncertain, but it appears less and less likely. The virus is in the sumo world, and having wrestlers interact across heyas is probably unwise. Having them slam into each other is probably a bridge too far.

So this might be a ghost banzuke. It could certainly be used for whenever live sumo starts again, of course, but things change. Older rikishi could decide to retire instead of wait this out. Training injuries could crop up. Perhaps some will just want to get away from communal living in the current moment.

That's a shame, because it's an interesting basho. Asanoyama makes his debut at Ozeki, while Takakeisho will be looking to keep his Ozeki status. Shodai would have an outside chance at an Ozeki promotion (although it probably takes 13 or 14 wins). Mitakeumi returns to the Sanyaku ranks. Kiribayama would get his first chance in the joi-jin.

And at the other end, there's a wild amount of interesting circumstances. Terunofuji will come back to Makuuchi after a long absence due to repeated injuries and other health issues for the former Ozeki. Kotoshoho will make his Makuuchi debut after his Juryo yusho as a 20 year old. And Kotoshoho is one of five members of Sadogatake-beya to be in the last nine spots in the top division, creating some scheduling intrigue.

We might not see that ever, and we likely will not see it in May 2020. Still, we have a Banzuke.

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