Already overshadowed by recent scandals, the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament began under another cloud on Jan. 14 after the Japan Sumo Association disciplined its top referee for sexual harassment of a teenage boy.

Shikimori Inosuke, a venerable name among sumo referees, was suspended for three tournaments from the January one at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.

The measure means that Inosuke, whose real name is Itsuo Nouchi, 58, will not step onto the dohyo again. He has already submitted his request to resign from the JSA, but association officials said that would not be accepted until after the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in May.

When asked about the delay in accepting his resignation, Hakkaku, the JSA chairman, said at a Jan. 13 news conference, "We wanted to give him time to reflect on what he did."

The measure means Inosuke will not receive a salary for the duration of his suspension, and he has been ordered to remain at home.

The referee given the Shikimori Inosuke title usually oversees the final matches of any given day that involve the yokozuna. Nouchi is the 40th referee over the years to take on the Inosuke name.

The other top referee title is also currently vacant, meaning the final bout of every day of the tournament will be handled by a referee at the next lower echelon. This will be the first time since the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in 1994 that no top referee will be available for the 15 days of the tournament.

Inosuke appeared at the Jan. 13 emergency directors' meeting where the disciplinary measure was decided on. He apologized to sumo fans, the JSA and the youth who was the victim of his sexual harassment.

According to JSA officials, Inosuke became drunk in December when the sumo circuit tour made a stop in Okinawa Prefecture. The tour involves top wrestlers and referees traveling as a group through regional areas that do not normally host a sumo tournament.

Inosuke licked the lips of the teenaged referee several times and touched his chest once. Inosuke has apologized to the victim. The young referee and his family have no intention of pressing criminal charges against Inosuke.

The scandal involving Inosuke came to light one day after the JSA completed disciplinary action against those involved with a drunken beating incident during a circuit tour in October that led to the premature retirement of yokozuna Harumafuji on Nov. 29. On Jan. 4, the JSA removed stablemaster Takanohana, a former yokozuna great, as an association director for failure to cooperate in its investigation of the beating, which involved one of his wrestlers as the victim.

Those highly publicized scandals were one reason the JSA politely asked that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko not attend sumo matches during the January tournament as they have done in the past.

So far, the scandals do not appear to have severely affected the overall popularity of the sport.

Advance tickets for the New Year tournament sold out in early December, and the number of applications for the monetary awards to be given to the winner of each bout do not appear to have decreased.

However, there are some stablemasters who are concerned that the series of scandals will eventually lead to fans abandoning sumo.