Australia’s childhood obesity crisis grows ever worse. And we can talk about the good old days when we used to play Test matches in the backyard after school all we like. The reality is that in the era of high-fat convenience foods, obesity’s inevitable. So unfortunately, what we really need if we want kids to get active is a sport that can be contested by the overweight.
Such sports do exist. Tenpin bowling has a special place in the cholesterol-clogged hearts of the morbidly obese, but it never made anyone stronger or fitter. The main point of bowling, after all, is to give us blokes a low-impact sporting diversion in between gulps of beer.
And then there’s the shot put, an activity which has been pointless ever since they invented the cannon.
But there’s one highly athletic sport where to succeed, you have to stack on the kilos. And that, of course, is sumo. I had the curious cross-cultural pleasure of attending a charity tournament on a recent trip to Tokyo, and from what I saw, every chunky Aussie kid should be encouraged to tussle with other flabby behemoths while wearing skimpy adult nappies. It’s fantastic entertainment. No, better still, it’s fat-tastic entertainment.
Whereas in most athletic pursuits, the chubbier kids are left sitting on the sidelines and made to feel inferior, sumo celebrates the gut. That’s why rikishi (wrestlers) wear such skimpy loincloths. Not for them an elasticised, gut-minimising body stocking. As every steroid-guzzling bouncer outside a dodgy nightclub knows, some things are all about size.
And there can be no better time for our tubbier athletes to consider taking up the ancient sport, because even though it’s steeped in centuries of Shinto tradition, right now foreigners are not only welcome, but dominant. The current yokozuna (grand champion) is a Mongolian called Asashoryu, and his closest contender is a Bulgarian, Mahlyanov Stefanov who wrestles under the name of Kotooshu. So a few Aussies would hardly be noticed.
The charity day went for a few yuks by pitting some of the larger sumo wrestlers against ten junior sumo trainees – it was a bit like Kanga Cricket during lunchtime at the SCG. Among the kids who got into the hallowed ring that day was, to my surprise, one blonde-haired kid. And I thought to myself – that little fella with the cheeky grin and the bulging gut? That could be Warney.
Which is not to say that the real Warney couldn’t still take up sumo. In fact, he should. His beloved meat pies would work just as well as the sport’s traditional hearty rice broth for gaining weight. And Warney may not have much sumo-specific experience, but he’s very well accustomed to wrestling with strangers in his underwear.
Come to think of it, it wouldn’t take long to put together an accomplished celebrity sumo league in Australia. What a fantastic format. Take some tubby retirees, put them through a training course, and instant reality television smash hit. It’d be like The Biggest Loser in reverse. And just think of the celebrity match-ups. Mal Meninga v Blocker Roach. Ian ‘Huey’ Hewitson v ‘Aussie’ John Symonds. And best of all, Boony v Beazley. In the words of the late, great Big Kev, who I just know could have been a sumo superstar, I’m excited.
And above all, Celebrity Sumo (to which I now own the rights, incidentally, having published this article) would teach our Aussie kids that they don’t have to stay thin to become sporting superstars. It would build self-esteem among our ever-burgeoning overweight youngsters. And that’s a good thing. Not as good as if they actually got fit, admittedly. But sumo at least will get them off their sofas and into the ring. For about thirty seconds, after which they’ll have to sit down again because of their ridiculous bulk. But still, it’s a sport. And they way things are going, it’s just a matter of time until it’s our national one as well.