A group of women ran onto a sumo ring in Japan on Wednesday, rushing to perform CPR on a man who had collapsed while giving a speech. Shortly after the first woman stepped into the ring, a referee took to the loudspeaker and ordered all women out of the ring, as they are banned from the space.
The women were actually trying to help the man, Ryozo Tatami, who is the mayor of the city of Maizuru. Tatami had collapsed in the ring while giving a speech. Footage of the dramatic rush to help Tatami has over one million views on YouTube, where one of the women can even be seen physically pumping the mayor's chest.
Not only were the women ordered to leave the ring, but the referee also asked men to get into the ring instead.
In Japanese sumo wrestling, the ring is considered a sacred area. Women are forbidden from entering the ring as tradition dictates it could affect its purity.
Mayor Tatami was taken to hospital and is in a stable condition.
The incident went hugely viral in Japan as sumo's male-only culture was heavily scrutinised and critiqued.
"I saw the dark side of the sumo association," wrote one person on Twitter. "Asking the female doctor – who was saving the mayor when he collapsed – to get off the ring is the same as asking her to ignore and not take any medical act."
Others called out the Japanese Sumo Association's efforts to attract female audiences as surface-level only. "Deep down, they exposed their discrimination and hatred against women," wrote another Japanese Twitter user. "To all the female audience, I really don't think you need to go watch their tournaments."
A computer game has since been created called "Dohyo defense (ring defense)," that involves hurling animated beer bottles or golf clubs at female nurses trying to save a person who had collapsed in a sumo ring.
It's not the first time the sumo world's rituals and traditions have been put under the microscope. In 2000, the first female governor of Osaka Prefecture, Fusae Ōta, was blocked from presenting a trophy during a sumo tournament because she was a woman.
The head of the Japan Sumo Association, Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, has apologised and said the referee made the announcement while upset. "But it was an inappropriate act in a situation that involves one's life," he said. "We deeply apologise."
On Thursday afternoon, the association also contacted the woman who performed CPR, saying they wanted to present a letter of appreciation for taking the initiative to perform CPR. She declined. "I only did something that's common sense," she told the association. "Please leave me alone."
Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
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