Women sumo wrestlers in Brazil ‘breaking prejudice’

JSumo wrestlers take part in a demonstration fight in front of the Gateway of India on February 3, 2023 in Mumbai. — AFP

SAO PAULO: If the phrase “sumo wrestler” brings to mind a bulky Asian man in a loincloth, the Brazilian mother-daughter sumo wrestling team of Valeria and Diana Dal Olio have a message: Think again.

Dall’Olios are used to describe people who are too small, too delicate or too feminine to practice the sport and are usually associated with Japanese men.

But he says it’s only fuel for his fighting spirit when he gets into the “dojo” or ring.

Valeria, 39, explains, “There is a lot of prejudice. When you say you practice sumo, some people think you must be fat.” AFPAs she prepares for a competition at a public gym in Sao Paulo.

Women Martial arts have always been under a microscope, because they are sports that have generally been limited to male fighters.”

She dabbled in martial arts as a girl, studying judo and jiu-jitsu.

In 2016, he fell in love with sumo, which was brought to Brazil by Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century.

Soon, she was winning competitions – all the way to the Brazilian national title, which she won three times (2018, 2019 and 2021) in the middleweight category (65 to 73 kg, 143 to 161 pounds).

He added the South American Championship to his trophy case in 2021.

More fighting spirit

“I try to balance my different lives: housewife, mother of two children. I don’t have much free time,” says Valeria.

Women’s professional sumo is banned in Japan.

In its birthplace, the highly ritualized sport has been linked for more than 1,500 years to the Shinto religion, whose adherents traditionally view women as impure or unlucky for sumo.

In the past, women were banned from participating in competitions or touching sumo wrestlers.

But an international amateur women’s sumo championship has been organized since 2001. Organizers hope to one day turn it into an Olympic sport.

“It’s a real win for us to be allowed to compete,” says Valeria.

“We have more fighting spirit than men, who are generally not used to fighting on as many fronts as we are.”

Diana, 18, says she never had much interest in wrestling – until she was drawn to sumo by its speed.

The bout, in which wrestlers compete to fall or push each other off a circular, dirt floor ring, rarely lasts more than 30 seconds.

Strength, strategy and technique are everything.

Diana wore a “mawashi” or sumo diaper for the first time in 2019.

She now competes as a lightweight (below 65 kg).

“You can feel the bias,” she says of people’s reactions to her choice of sport.

“A lot of people say, ‘Women are fragile, they get hurt and quit,'” she says.

“It’s one of the things we’re learning to fight against. My generation is emerging.”

A battle for honor

Oscar Morio Socia, president of the Brazilian Sumo Confederation, says that sumo is growing rapidly in Brazil, especially thanks to women.

He says half of the country’s 600 sumo wrestlers are women.

“Because of Shinto rituals, in which women could not even enter the ring, many traditionalists were nervous when they started competing. But those barriers are being broken down,” he says.

At his São Paulo gym, Dal Olivos cleaned up the dojo mess after a tough day, in which Diana won one of her three bouts and Valeria lost just one against 18-time Brazilian middleweight champion Luciana Watanabe. ditch

Watanabe, 37, is the public face of sumo in Brazil.

She shares her passion for the sport by teaching children in Suzano, a small town with a large Japanese-Brazilian population 50 km (31 mi) outside of São Paulo.

“Usually men teach sumo,” she says.

“But I think I encourage kids when I show them my titles.”

She also says her goal is to “break down prejudice.”

“I want people to respect the sport more,” she says.

“A lot of people still think it’s just a sport for fat men. Sumo is for everyone.”

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