TOKYO (AP) _ A majority of Japanese sumo fans support a tradition which bans women from stepping on the raised dirt wrestling mound, according to a survey released by the Japan Sumo Association on Wednesday.

The association conducted the survey, distributing 350 questionnaires at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sept. 12 for a response rate of 51 percent, Kyodo News Agency said. Fifty-four percent said the ban should be maintained, and 46 percent said the prohibition should be scrapped.

A similar survey in 2004 also showed a majority opposed to lifting the ban.

JSA officials were not immediately available for comment.

The 2,000-year-old national sport has always banned women from the ring, though the origins of the ruling remain unclear. It was believed to be based on beliefs in Shinto, Japan's native region, that women are impure.

The eligibility of women to enter the sumo ring became controversial in recent years when the female governor of Osaka repeatedly requested she be allowed on the mound to present a prize to the winning wrestler, as her male predecessors had done.

Since her election in 2000, Ota has been banned from presenting the prize to the tournament winner by the JSA, which has cited the sport's traditions. A male vice governor has presented the award for the last five years.

It was not until 1778 that women were permitted to watch bouts, and then only on the final day of tournaments. A century later, women were allowed to watch entire tournaments, but not permitted to climb on the ring. The sport has since gained many female fans, but few women are asking to compete in the sport.

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On the Net:

Japan Sumo Association: http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/index.html