If the phrase “sumo wrestler” calls to mind a hefty Asian man in a loincloth, Valeria and Diana Dall’Olio, a mother-daughter sumo wrestling team from Brazil, have a message: think again.
The Dall’Olios are used to people saying they are too small, too fragile or too female to practise a sport typically associated with hulking Japanese men.
But they say that is just fuel for their fighting spirit when they get in the dojo – the ring.
“There’s a lot of prejudice. When you say you practice sumo, some people think you have to be fat,” Valeria, 39, said, as she prepares for a competition at a public gym in Sao Paulo.
“Women are always under a microscope in the martial arts, because they’re sports that have generally been restricted to male fighters.”
She got into martial arts as a girl, learning judo and jiu-jitsu. In 2016, she fell in love with sumo, which was brought to Brazil by Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century.
Soon, she was winning bouts – all the way up to the Brazilian national title, which she won three times (2018, 2019 and 2021) in the middleweight category (65-73kg or 143-161 pounds). She added the South American championship to her trophy case in 2021.
Women are banned from professional sumo in Japan. In its birthplace, the highly ritualised sport has been linked for more than 1,500 years to the Shinto religion, whose believers have traditionally seen women as impure or bad luck for sumo.
In the past, women were banned from attending bouts or even touching sumo wrestlers.
But an international amateur women’s sumo championship has been held since 2001. Organisers hope to turn it into an Olympic sport one day.