North puts on a diplomatic show

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North puts on a diplomatic show

North Korea hosted a rare international pro-wrestling tournament over the weekend in Pyongyang, an event that was seen as the isolated regime’s attempt at sports diplomacy.

The Rodong Sinmun, the North’s official mouthpiece, reported yesterday that the two-day Pyongyang International Pro Wrestling Games kicked off Saturday to a crowded stadium of more than 10,000 people - the first such event in 19 years.

The martial arts tournament, involving 21 fighters from countries including the United States, France, Brazil and China, was organized by Antonio Inoki, 71, a former wrestler who is currently a Japanese politician. Inoki said the event was held to promote peace and friendship.

The event’s opening ceremony at Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Gymnasium featured cultural performances, including one by a troop of child dancers.

“Through this tournament, I look forward to the door to relations between Japan and North Korea being opened after a long period in which it remained shut,” Inoki said in an address during the opening. “And rather than a near but far country, it will become a near and close country.”

North Korean Jang Ung, the co-organizer of the wrestling event and a member of the International Olympic Committee, also attended the ceremony.

“We will actively try to strengthen international cooperation and solidarity in many areas, including sports exchanges for peace and friendship,” he said in his opening speech, in which he took the time to denounce the recent joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

Fighters who took to the ring included American Bob Sapp, a former mixed martial artist who appeared in the 2011 version of “Conan the Barbarian,” French kickboxer Jerome Le Banner and Brazilian wrestler Montanha Silva.

Inoki, an opposition lawmaker in Japan’s upper house, has now visited the isolated regime 30 times. He was suspended from the National Diet for a month in November 2013 for taking an unauthorized trip to North Korea for an event to mark the 60th anniversary of signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, which ended the 1950-53 Korean War, where he met with Kim Yong-nam, the chairman of North Korea’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

After arriving in Pyongyang on Thursday, Inoki met again with Kim ahead of the pro-wrestling tournament, Japanese media reported.

Kyodo News added that more than 50 Japanese tourists flew to Pyongyang to attend the tournament.

In April 1995, a large-scale international pro-wrestling match, Collision in Korea, was held in Pyongyang, organized by the Atlanta, Georgia-based World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and New Japan Pro Wrestling, a professional wrestling promoter founded by Inoki in 1972.

This tournament is the first major international sporting event in Pyongyang since former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman and a team of veteran NBA players put on a basketball game in January in honor of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG WON-YEOB [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]




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