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Japan Sumo Association to crack down on obesity

TOKYO -- (AP) -- For the first time in the history of the ancient sport of sumo, wrestlers will be required to take a test measuring their body fat -- and told to go on a diet if necessary.

Ayako Suzuki, of the Japan Sumo Association, said today the first fat test will be administered to wrestlers at the end of the 15-day summer tournament that begins May 9.

The test aims to help wrestlers stay as healthy as possible. If a wrestler is judged to be carrying more weight than his frame can handle, he will receive an official warning from the association and a recommendation to go on a diet, she said.

She did not give more specific weight guidelines.

The announcement comes amid a rash of weight-related injuries and complaints from fans that the sport has lately become more about fat and less about fight.

Weight is clearly taking its toll on the wrestlers.

In the last tournament, the three top-ranked wrestlers all had to withdraw -- two with weight-related problems.

Many sumo watchers say the problem is a result of less strenuous training sessions for the wrestlers, resulting in bouts of pushing and shoving in which the heaviest man wins, rather than wrestling based on quickness or technique.

Sumo, a 2,000 year-old sport with roots in Japan's indigenous Shinto religion, is a one-on-one sport fought by athletes trying to wrestle each other down or out of an elevated clay ring.

While the sumo association officially lists 70 winning moves, including flips, twists, thrusts and shoves, the more complex are becoming infrequent as wrestlers get too fat to move freely.

In 1953, the average weight of a sumo wrestler was 317 pounds, while the average height was 5-foot 11, according to the sumo association.

Today, the average wrestler is just 3.2 inches taller, but 95 pounds heavier.

Suzuki blamed the weight gains on a diet more based on meat than vegetables -- but she expressed reservations about allowing wrestlers to get too thin.

``Wrestlers come into the sport wanting one thing -- to get bigger,'' she said. ``If we take that desire away from them, what will happen to sumo?''