Tue, May 20, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Japan lawmaker eyes pro wrestling in North Korea

RASSLING DIPLOMACY:Senator Antonio Inoki, a former professional wrestler himself, will try to invite international wrestlers to Pyongyang

AFP, TOKYO

The high camp drama of professional wrestling is heading to Pyongyang this summer, with a bout set for August, staff of a Japanese lawmaker helping to organize the event said yesterday.

Japanese pro-wrestler-turned-Senator Antonio Inoki, whose own contribution to the farfetched fight storylines enthralled millions in Japan during his career, is intending to co-organize some professional grappling in the North Korean capital.

Inoki is to team up with Pyongyang authorities to invite performers from around the world, one of his secretaries told reporters.

The exact date and the names of the participants “are still being decided,” the secretary said, adding that the event would be held as “part of sports diplomacy.”

Inoki, 71, heads a nonprofit organization aimed at establishing sports-based international exchanges, which opened an office in Pyongyang last year.

Inoki, whose mentor in professional wrestling was Korean-born Mitsuhiro Momota, aka Rikidozan, has visited North Korea almost 30 times since 1994.

After his most recent visit in January, he told reporters that North Korea seemed “calm,” despite a leadership purge last year.

During the four-day trip there, Inoki met North Korean Workers Party International Department director Kim Yong-il and other officials.

If the bout goes ahead, it will be the second time Inoki has been involved in wrestling in North Korea. In 1995, he organized a sports festival in Pyongyang featuring bouts between Japanese and US pro wrestlers.

The Tokyo government, which does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, has advised its citizens to refrain from visiting North Korea as part of its stance on the communist state’s nuclear bomb program and missile tests, as well as its perceived refusal to come clean on abductions of Japanese during the Cold War.

Inoki’s low-profile visit in January came days after flamboyant former basketball player Dennis Rodman caused international controversy with a trip to visit his “friend for life,” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, singing Happy Birthday on a basketball court ahead of a special exhibition game.

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