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banner Friday, 4 May, 2001, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Women weigh in for sumo
Japan's desire to see sumo included in the Olympics has opened the door for women to compete in a traditionally male domain.
BBC Sport Online's Mike Burnett examines how large women in nappies are Japan's bargaining chip for sumo's inclusion in the Olympics.

It can be a bizarre sight to outsiders when they see two overweight men in funny underpants slapping each other.

In Japan, and among enthusiasts across the world, though, sumo is recognised as a time-honoured and respected sport.

But the ancient art's bid to get on the Olympics' roster of events has been hindered by its traditional exclusion of women.

The International Olympic Committee does not take kindly to a sport that bans women because their menstrual cycle might offend the Shinto Gods.

You can't go up to a woman and say, 'Hey, I think you'd be good at sumo'
  Sid Hoare
President of British Sumo Association
Over the last five years, the Japan Sumo Federation have taken painstaking measures to rectify this, much to the horror of Japanese traditionalists.

It may not get the same coverage as the men's sport, but chunky women across the world are now donning the nappies and getting in the ring.

There have been five world tournaments since then.

But sumo's organising body has had to tread a cautious line, deflecting the bulk of criticism from purists, by diplomatically changing the sport's name to 'Shinzumo' (new sumo).

Also, the event is well and truly amateur, in contrast to the men's professional sport in Japan.

Subtle differences

Of course, there have had to be other changes as well since the first tournament back in Osaka in 1996.

While the 'awashi' or sash belt worn by men is the traditional costume, the authorities have realised that women would show more flesh than was bearable.

So, instead, the female competitors wear a leotard, or pair of loose trousers, with just a symbolic 'awashi.'

Despite interest from Japan, South America and some parts of Europe, the women's form of the sport is still in its infancy and has yet to conquer many countries, including Great Britain.

Sid Hoare, president of the British Sumo Association, knows that female recruitment can be pretty difficult.

"It's difficult to get women doing sumo. You can't go up to a woman and say, 'Hey, I think you'd be good at sumo.'"

This could all change if sumo's profile is raised and the sport gets the nod to go ahead at the 2004 Olympics.

The world waits with baited breath, but in the meantime, do not be surprised to see some hefty women throwing their weight around in the name of sumo.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 |  Other Sports
Sumo great Akebono retires
01 Mar 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Sumo excludes woman governor
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