TOKYO (AFP) - Record-breaking Mongolian sumo wrestler Hakuho on Monday fanned the flames of a row over sumo etiquette as he denied breaching the ancient Japanese sport's strict protocol with an outburst against officials.
Peeved at being ordered to repeat a bout which had been too close to call, the hulking yokozuna (grand champion) let rip at the decision after surpassing legendary Japanese wrestler Taiho to capture a 33rd Emperor's Cup last month.
His victory prompted hand-wringing in sumo's corridors of power as Mongolia's stranglehold on the sport became official.
"We all have our own ideas and thoughts," Hakuho told reporters on Monday, declining to apologise for comments which triggered accusations that he lacked the dignity required to hold sumo's elite rank.
"All I was doing was giving my opinion, that's all."
Pressed to elaborate, he growled: "Sometimes, in your heart, there are things you can't say."
The press conference in Osaka was then brought to an abrupt halt when sumo officials whisked Hakuho away, fearful of further controversy.
"It's a small spat and it's going to be used by anti-Mongolian partisans to show that the Mongolians don't have the hinkaku (dignity) necessary," Japan-watcher Michael Cucek of Temple University Japan said.
"The Mongolians are just better - they have taken the sport to a new level. They're bigger, they're stronger and their technique is better."
What ought to have been a storm in a teacup was blown out of proportion, Cucek said, because Hakuho had erased Taiho - widely regarded as the greatest yokozuna of the post-war era - from the record books.
"It's absolute dominance by the Mongolians of the yokozuna rank," he added.
"There are no Japanese yokozuna and there's no outlook for one anytime soon. It's sour grapes, no question. The Japanese don't like foreigners breaking their records."