The success of Japan’s Osunaarashi, the first sumo wrestler of African descent, has sparked a lot of interest in Egypt, his homeland even though it is difficult to imagine a sport more intimately identified with Japan other than sumo.
Rikishi elite, the best sumo wrestlers, have for a very long time remained reserved for the Japanese, before gradually opening up to Mongolians and Koreans.
That’s why the recent breakthrough of an Egyptian champion is commensurate with his battle name, Osunaarashi meaning “Great Sandstorm”, a Le Monde report has revealed.
The first Muslim Rikishi
Egyptian Abdulrahman Shalan was born in 1992 in Mansoura, 130 kilometers north of Cairo. Following intensive bodybuilding, he discovered sumo techniques.
Beaten by half-weighted wrestlers, Shalan understands the importance of harsh learning in what he once considered an "elephant sport". His passion for sumo turns into obsession.
He participates in amateur tournaments in Estonia, then in Bulgaria. In August 2011, it is the leap into the unknown: he flies to Tokyo without knowing any Japanese words.
Shalan approaches various sumo schools (beya) under the name he chose for himself: Osunaarashi. Only one beya, Otake, agreed to take him for a trial period. But to realize his dream, the young Egyptian must just clean the gym and the dishes for a long period of time.
His unyielding obedience and hard work convinced Otake officials to formally integrate him into their team in March 2012. Osunaarashi needed just over a year to advance to the Sumo Premier League, the makuuchi, where forty strong wrestlers compete. The Egyptian rikishi is now the most prominent champion of Otake.
Although Osunaarashi has since been demoted to the second juryo division, his outstanding career has already attracted many vocations in his native country, says the report.
A visit to the headquarters
The head of the sumo federation in Egypt says that a three-year plan has been launched to develop the sport, already practiced in 40 clubs.
The guidelines for such voluntarism come from the top of the state: during an official visit to Japan in February 2016, President Sissi has met the child prodigy of Egyptian sumo.
Exemption from military obligations allowed Osunaarashi to return to the country without risking mandatory recruitment. The young rikishi agreed to promote Egypt by becoming its ambassador of tourism in Japan.
In fact, the number of Japanese tourists in Egypt has quadrupled between 2016 and 2017. The sumo federation in Cairo is delighted by the dynamism of the new clubs, among others in Sohag, 500 kilometers south of the capital, in Upper Egypt.
Egyptian wrestlers won two silver medals at the World Games held last July in the Polish city of Wroclaw. Yet, it is still too early to know if the sumo graft will take on the banks of the Nile.
However, it is certain that the “Great Sandstorm”, now has Egyptian disciples who dream of following his example.