Japanese Sumo says a lot about Japan and the samurai spirit of its people. It's not just a wrestling match between scantily-clad hippopotami, but is a symbol of the Japanese soul. The matches are rife with culture and tradition. The athletes go through rituals that have an innate poetry in them: a 300-pound haiku, if you will. Honor is paramount to the sumo warrior. After a match, the winner simply bows to the vanquished. No celebration is allowed for this dishonors both the winner and the loser.
Recently, sumo has been receiving world-wide interest. It has been opening up to the rest of the world. In fact, of the last four athletes who have been awarded Yokozuna (or Grand Champion) status, three have been foreigners: Akebono and Musashi-Maru are American and Asashoryu is Mongolian. Because of this, sumo tournaments have been sprouting outside Japan.
One of these tournaments was held, oddly enough, in Las Vegas. And a better contrast to the world of traditional sumo, you cannot find. The Las Vegas tournament was American all the way, complete with scantilly-clad girls. The dohyo or ring was a circle drawn on the mat, not the sculpted clay dohyo of traditional sumo, made by artisans with generations of tradition behind them. There was none of the rituals, none of the pageantry, none of the poetry in the Las Vegas tournament.
But that will change this year. In an effort to show the outside world how to do it properly, the Japanese Sumo Association is taking a direct hand in the staging of this year's Las Vegas tournament. A proper clay dohyo is to be constructed in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, with Yokozuna Asashoryu participating.
Whether sumo will take off as a world sport remains to be seen. If you ask me, the sumo association should have staged the tournament in Europe, where they still value such things as art, culture, and tradition. The only thing they value in Las Vegas are the betting odds.
I have mixed feelings about Chelsea's emergence as a dominant force in English football. Right now theyre at the top of the Premiership, eleven points clear of Arsenal, and looks on track to win the title. They have solid players in Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry, Arjen Robben, and a gifted manager in Jose Mourinho. They could win the European title as well, having disposed of perennial favorites Bayern Munich in convincing fashion.
Ive been a Chelsea supporter since '97 when a colleague MU and I adopted it as our home team when we were assigned to the London office. For all intents and purposes, basketball is just a figment of my imagination in London. You couldnt get the NBA unless you had cable so I made do with what they had and became a football (and rugby) fan. MU and I would go to pubs and watch Chelsea play. Once we went to a pub right across the river from the Stamford Bridge stadium. Chelsea won and MU said, "We better finish our beers and get out of here. In a few minutes those Chelsea fans would be here." I never got to see first-hand how rowdy English fans could be, but I guess it's all for the best.
Anyway, the reason for the mixed feelings is the amount of money involved in building the present Chelsea team... and the involvement of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who isnt exactly a paragon of business ethics in his home country. The Didier Drogba deal alone cost 26 million pounds, easily one of the biggest deals in football. Im happy the club is doing well, but Id rather they do it through old-fashioned hard work. But knowing the million dollar industry that is football, I guess that would be a dream. As in all professional sport, money is essential in building a competitive team.
I was having lunch with another British colleague last year and we got to talking football. He asked me what English team I supported and when I said Chelsea, he sort of snorted. The amount of Russian money poured into the team had left a bad taste in his mouth. "Have you always supported Chelsea?," he asked. Yes, I said. From the time of Gianfranco Zola and Ruud Gullit. He then nodded his approval. He supports the Queen's Park Rangers, which still couldnt make it to the Premiership, so he understands what team loyalty is all about.