Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Steve Pateman on sumo wrestling: “The Japanese are no longer the best”

Posted on 26 February 2018 by Shane Murphy

This month saw an investigation into sumo wrestling in Japan following the dismissal of grand champion Harumafuji back in November 2017 and the dismissal of the sports highest ranked referee, Shikimori Inosuke.

Steve Pateman is a British sumo wrestler with more than 25 years experience in the sport. He helped develop sumo wrestling in Europe by coaching in Switzerland, Holland and Finland. He is now the president of the British Sumo Federation.


Following on from this week in the news, is the sport of sumo wrestling in somewhat of a crisis at the moment?

“Sumo has survived as a sport for centuries and will continue to do so.”

Do you think the sanctions for sumo grand champion Harumafuji are tough enough? Or are they too lenient?

“Harumafuji was forced to retire. His behaviour was not acceptable for any sumo wrestler, let alone a grand champion.”

What are your opinions on the decision to dismiss a referee in January after sexual harassment allegations arose?

“The Japan Sumo Association listened, acted and took the correct action. Soccer in this country and gymnastics in America could learn from the Japanese.

“Too many sports in the West have turned a blind eye to inappropriate sexual activity and have covered up to protect themselves without a care for the victims.”

What will it take for the sport to be restored to its former glory?

“The romantic era for modern day sumo was around the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. At this time, the greatest of all Yokozuna, Chiyonofuji, was a joy to behold. 

“Sumo needs a Japanese grand champion of this calibre.”


Having been a sport for more than 2000 years, this recent history seems to be somewhat of a culture shock for fans of sumo. There looks to be a stain on sumo wrestling at the moment but it would seem, having been going for so long, the sport is expected to forget about this phase and move on, but it’s not just in Japan where the sport flourishes.

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How has sumo wrestling progressed in the UK, particularly in the last ten years?

“The UK have won 4 medals in World Championships. We have several competitions every year, the most recent was in February at Goldsmith University’s Great Hall in London, where the Great Britain team fought Norway in an international. 

“It will never be a massive sport in the UK because of the dress code. However we allow athletes to wear cycling shorts and have the mawashi (sumo belt) on top.”

At what age can someone start training to become a sumo wrestler?

“In Japan a youngster can start training at a professional Heya (sumo stable) when he is 15. Some youngsters start sumo when they are in elementary school at around 7 years of age.

“In the UK we prefer athletes to start from 18 years old.”

Does the sport encourage women to participate?

“Yes, and there are some very tough women out there. Our own Adele Jones got to the final of the World Championships in Osaka a few years ago.”

Does the future look bright for sumo wrestling in the UK, and around the world? 

“The beauty of Sumo is that it’s so simple. So, most athletes from sports that have physical contact can become quite adept in a relatively short period of time.

“A tough rugby player, or, say an American football line-backer could be successful with very little training. 

“And that is why sumo is always going to be practised in all countries. The Japanese are no longer the best.

 “In amateur Sumo, Russia win most medals and in the professional ranks, Mongolian wrestlers have been at the top for the last few years.”


Having been a sport for more than 2000 years, this seems to be somewhat of a culture shock for fans of sumo. 

Recent events have left tainted the public image of the sport, but many people expect that because it has remained a professional occupation for so long, it is expected to pull through these tough times and resume.


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