Japanese politician to co-host wrestling bout in Pyongyang

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2014, 9:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 9:33am


A Japanese wrestler-turned politician said yesterday that he would co-host an international wrestling exhibition in North Korea next month, just days after Tokyo revoked some of its unilateral sanctions against the isolated state.

Antonio Inoki said some 20 wrestlers from around the world, including from the United States and France, would perform at the two-day event in Pyongyang.

Watch: Japan politician to host pro-wrestling exhibition in N. Korea

The former wrestling legend - whose own contribution to its far-fetched fight storylines enthralled millions in Japan during his career - would not reveal names of competitors, but said his visit might also include meetings with high-level officials.

"I've been working on contributing to world peace through sports, and I hope to keep doing this work in the future," Inoki, wearing his trademark red scarf, told a press conference in Tokyo.

"In my past visits I met with senior [North Korean] government officials, and I think it will be the case this time, too," he added.

"But I can't announce the names of the competitors until right before the visit."

Inoki, 71, now a lawmaker in Japan's upper house of parliament, heads a non-profit organisation aimed at establishing sports-based international exchanges, which opened an office in Pyongyang last year.

The event, from August 30-31 at the 20,000-seat Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Stadium, would also feature performers showing off skills in Korean taekwondo and Japanese aikido, organisers said.

It will be the second time Inoki has been involved in wrestling in North Korea. In 1995, he organised a sports festival in Pyongyang featuring bouts between Japanese and American professional wrestlers.

The announcement yesterday came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week that Japan would lift some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea.

The diplomatic easing was aimed at giving credit to Pyongyang's efforts in re-investigating the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by its agents during the cold war. The abductees were used to train spies in the Japanese language and customs.

During his last visit there in January, Inoki met Kim Yong-il, director of the International Department of the North Korean Workers Party.

The politician has visited North Korea nearly 30 times since 1994.