On Sunday, President Trump will sit in a chair in Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium in Tokyo to take in the first sumo tournament held in Japan since Emperor Naruhito ascended to the throne May 1.
Then, probably without his shoes on, he will walk into the ring and present the winner with a special award: the President’s Cup. Or, as some are calling it, the “Trump Cup.” The trophy is nearly five feet tall, the Associated Press reported.
But France beat him to a “president’s cup.”
Nearly 20 years ago, then-French President Jacques Chirac, who was well-known for his sumo obsession, started a similar tradition, creating the “President of the Republic of France Cup” for sumo champions. It soon took on a nickname quite like that of the award Trump will present on Sunday: the "Chirac Cup.”
Trump has expressed interest in sumo wrestling before, saying last month when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in town that he has “always found [sumo wrestling] fascinating.”
“We’re having a trophy made in this country," he said. "We’re going to give the trophy to the winner of the championship.”
But Trump’s interest level is not likely to come anywhere near close to Chirac’s. The French president was famously smitten with the ancient Japanese sport. He presented trophies to sumo wrestlers who competed in the Paris neighborhood of Bercy, and of course, created his own special award, which was discontinued after he left office in 2007.
Chirac even went so far as to name his dog Sumo, although later gave up the Maltese after he developed behavioral problems and repeatedly attacked Chirac.
A shared love for sumo wrestling was apparently a key aspect of Chirac’s relationship with former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose wife once said in a TV interview that Schröder stayed up late to watch televised sumo matches.
“The French president is an expert on sumo,” she reportedly said in 2003, referring to Chirac. “The two of them always talk about it when they meet.”
Chirac’s obsession with sumo was met with some taunting in France. In 2004, then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who later succeeded Chirac in the presidency, reportedly called it “combat between fat guys with lacquered ponytails."
“It is hardly a sport for intellectuals,” he said.
As the Telegraph reported at the time, a Franco-Japanese association in turn accused Sarkozy of demonstrating “a lack of consideration...for Japanese culture." And a spokesman for Japan’s national sumo association said the comment appeared to be targeting Chirac. “I suppose one would make that type of comment if one want to criticize President Chirac,” a spokesman for the group said, according to the Telegraph.
In a memoir Chirac published later, he acknowledged that Sarkozy’s comments stung. “I pretended not to notice that I was the target,” he wrote. “I just told myself we had neither the same tastes nor the same culture.”
He also said that to react to Sarkozy’s jabs would not have been “worthy of a president."
As The Washington Post’s David Nakamura explained earlier this month, it’s not uncommon for foreign dignitaries to present sumo champions with awards. But what some sumo fans are taking issue with is Trump’s seating choice for the event: a chair. Most sumo fans choose to sit cross-legged on the floor.
“As we say, when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do," one fan told Reuters.