Hospital bed, generic
Photo for illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Pixabay

Tokyo: A Japanese sumo wrestler has died after landing on his head during a bout last month in a horrifying injury that caused shockwaves and calls for reform in the sport.

Hibikiryu, a lower-tier wrestler whose real name was Mitsuki Amano, died of acute respiratory failure on Wednesday at a Tokyo hospital, the Japan Sumo Association said in a statement in the evening.

"May his soul rest in peace, and we express our heartfelt gratitude towards his contribution" to the sport, the statement said.

The 28-year-old was thrown by his opponent during a March 26 bout, and video widely shared at the time showed him lying virtually motionless but apparently conscious.

Sumo association officials reportedly said he did not receive medical attention from trained professionals for several minutes. The images of him lying prone without assistance caused widespread shock.

He was also turned over by officials, something experts pointed out should only have been done by trained medics, given the possibility of a spinal injury.

Hibikiryu was conscious when he was brought to an ambulance and could talk during his hospitalisation, according to the Sankei Shimbun daily.

Reports said it was not yet clear whether his injury was related to his death, but there were calls for reform in the sport.

While doctors are on site during bouts, they are not ringside and it is customary to wait for wrestlers to get up by themselves.

Hibikiryu is the first active wrestler to die since last May, when another lower-tier wrestler Shobushi died of multiple organ failure after he became infected with the novel coronavirus and developed pneumonia, Kyodo News reported.

Sumo has faced a spate of bad publicity in recent years and has been pressed for reform, including over rules on admitting women into the sumo ring.

"Why is the sumo association allowed to treat life and health so lightly?" wrote one Japanese Twitter user.

In 2018, the Japan Sumo Association was forced to apologise after women who rushed to the aid of an official who had collapsed in a ring were repeatedly told to leave.

Sumo's dirt rings, known as "dohyo", are viewed as sacred in the Japanese Shinto faith and women - considered to be ritually unclean - are not allowed to enter for fear of desecrating the hallowed soil.