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Sumos bar woman governor from ring

TOKYO — Defending traditions that forbid women from entering the sumo ring, the sport's governing body has again barred Japan's first female governor from presenting a prize to the winner of a local sumo tournament, an official said Tuesday.

The chairman of the Japan Sumo Association was expected to formally convey the decision to Osaka Gov. Fusae Ota on Wednesday. It would be the second year in a row the association has prevented her from entering the ring.

Sumo elders have decided that there will be "no change" in the association's stance of "protecting traditional culture deeply rooted in history," said an association official, who declined to be named.

Ota sent shock waves through Japan's oldest sport last year when she announced her intention to climb into the sumo ring to present an award to the winner of a spring tournament in Osaka, Japan's second largest city.

The role customarily belongs to governor or mayor of the host locality — who in Osaka were all men until Ota, 49, was elected last February.

But sumo's roots are entwined with Japan's indigenous Shinto religion, which holds that the ring is sacred and women cannot enter because they are considered impure.

Ota later backed down and agreed to send a male representative after sumo's conservative governing body made clear that it had no intention of changing the sport's centuries-old traditions to accommodate her.

Earlier this month the governor requested that she be allowed to present the prize at this year's tournament, scheduled to start March 11, and some Japanese news media had reported that sumo officials were mulling a compromise.

But the official who spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday said that the association's answer would be "exactly the same" as a year ago.

The tradition banning women from the sumo ring had only been challenged once before Ota.

As chief Cabinet secretary, Mayumi Moriyama was set to present the prime minister's award at a sumo tournament in 1990. She also backed down after the issue became too divisive.