Record-breaking sumo champion Hakuho has tested positive for Covid-19 just days before the New Year tournament, the Japan Sumo Association has said.
The JSA said Hakuho was tested after noticing a loss of smell, and that other members of the Miyagino stable who are thought to have come into contact with him would be tested today.
The Mongolian-born 35-year-old, who has won a record 44 tournaments and holds sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna, had been preparing for the 15-day New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, which starts on Sunday in Tokyo.
A JSA spokesperson said his participation in the basho, or tournament, was as yet undecided, but the competition was set to go ahead as scheduled.
Hakuho’s infection comes after 11 members of the Arashio stable tested positive last week following the infection of top-division wrestler Wakatakakage.
Local media reported that the new cases included stablemaster Arashio, a hairdresser and eight lower-division wrestlers.
A gyoji, or referee, from a different stable also tested positive yesterday after complaining of a fever and cough.
A 20-year-old sumo wrestler died in Japan last May after contracting the virus and suffering multiple organ failure.
But Hakuho is the first wrestler from the sport’s top ranks to test positive for the virus.
He has been dealing with a knee injury and has not completed a tournament since March, when he won the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka.
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Hakuho (top) throws Goeido of Japan during a bout in Fukuoka in 2017
He withdrew from three straight tournaments this year, and was given an official warning by the JSA along with fellow yokozuna Kakuryu in November for repeated absences.
The warning is the sport’s strongest rebuke, short of recommending retirement.
Hakuho, who was born Munkhbat Davaajargal, came to Japan at age 15 to enter the sumo world and acquired Japanese citizenship in September 2019.
Japan is currently battling a third wave of infections, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga saying yesterday he was considering declaring a state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area.
Tokyo reported 1,278 new infections today, local media said, the second-highest figure yet following the 1,337 reported on New Year’s Eve.
Mr Suga yesterday insisted that the government was still committed to holding the virus-postponed Tokyo Olympics this summer, saying the Games would be “proof that mankind overcame the virus.”

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