Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku intends to apologize to women who were requested by a referee to leave a sumo ring while they were providing emergency treatment to a mayor who had collapsed, the body said Thursday.

Professional sumo traditionally bans women from walking into the dohyo ring because they are considered "unclean." The women spectators were among a number of people tending to Ryozo Tatami, the 67-year-old mayor of Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture, who suffered a stroke while making a speech in the ring during a sumo event Wednesday afternoon.

(Scene from a video clip uploaded to YouTube)

Despite the serious circumstances, a young referee called several times for the women to leave the raised ring after some spectators questioned their presence in it, according to JSA director Oguruma.

"The referee apparently made the announcement instantaneously as he panicked. But there is no excuse for it. In any case, saving a human life is the priority," Oguruma said.

"It was an inappropriate response in a life-threatening situation. I deeply apologize," Hakkaku said in a statement released late Wednesday. The JSA chief also expressed gratitude to the women who gave a heart massage to the mayor.

While a media report said sumo association officials scattered salt, presumably to purify the ring, after the women left, Oguruma said it was done as a customary procedure following an injury to a wrestler.

Kasugano, another director of the JSA, said the sumo association needs to consider measures to be taken in emergencies given the latest incident.

The mayor was transferred to a hospital where he was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke and underwent surgery, but his condition is not life-threatening, Maizuru city officials said Thursday.

(Japan Sumo Association chairman Hakkaku)

According to JSA officials and locals, the women entered the ring along with staff to provide cardiac massage and other treatment soon after the mayor collapsed.

"I thought the announcement was inappropriate considering everyone was anxious about the (mayor's) situation," a local official said.

The JSA formerly shot down repeated proposals by former female Osaka Gov. Fusae Ota in 2000 to present an award to a champion on a sumo ring at a spring tournament in her prefecture.

Also in 1990, the JSA said it could not let then female Chief Cabinet Secretary Mayumi Moriyama present the prime minister's cup to the winner of the New Year tournament that year as a proxy for Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.

A JSA document says that women cannot climb onto a dohyo as "it is a sacred place."

Sumo includes Shinto ritual elements, with a roof resembling a shrine suspended from the ceiling by cables over a dohyo at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan, according to the JSA.

Shinto shuns "kegare," meaning uncleanliness, especially blood, according to researchers. They say it has long considered women unclean because of menstruation and bleeding during childbirth.