Nearly 20 years after “Collision in Korea,” Pyongyang will play host to another landmark professional wrestling event, and non-Koreans can experience it too.
Antonio Inoki, a legendary Japanese professional wrestler and member of the Japanese Diet, has used his ties to the North to arrange the event, scheduled for August 30-31 at the Chun Doo Hyun Stadium in downtown Pyongyang. Inoki staged “Collision,” a similar event in 1995 in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium, attracting 320,000 spectators, perhaps the best-attended pro wrestling event ever.
While this year’s event isn’t happening in a venue that big, Michael Spavor, CEO of Michael Spavor Consulting, is betting that a number of foreign tourists will be interested in it and some additional sightseeing.
Spavor, originally from Canada, said that he has been traveling to the North since 2001 and taking tour groups, including business and student groups, there since 2010.
“I believe in supporting sports exchange and it looks like a fun event to go to,” he said. “It’s just something that I personally want to attend, a weekend fun event, and to allow other people to experience this too.”
If Spavor’s name is unfamiliar, Dennis Rodman’s probably is not. Last year, Spavor said, he was approached to bring Rodman to the North and this subsequently turned into three delegations, attracting widespread coverage. Most international attention focused on the spectacle of a former basketball pro, well-known for his eccentricity, meeting the North Korean leader – especially at a time when relations between the North and the U.S., South Korea and even China seemed to have deteriorated – but those visits did feature some sports diplomacy of their own, culminating in a basketball game pitting a team of retired NBA players against a North Korean squad.
This time, international pro wrestlers from several countries will participate, including Americans Bob Sapp and Bobby Lashley, Meiko Satomura of Japan and Canadian-Finnish star Michael Majalahti (who performs under the stage name “the Canadian Rebel Starbuck”). There will also be martial arts demonstrations in the fields of taekwondo and ssireum (wrestling), as well as the Japanese discipline of aikido.
Picture of Starbuck: Wikimedia Commons
“For people who haven’t traveled to the DPRK, it’s not only a chance to see a wrestling event, but we’re doing other things like traveling to the countryside,” Spavor said.
He said the group would also go to public places, such as the Nampo beach, where Spavor has fond memories of previous visits, including taking tour groups who were able to interact with locals through ping-pong, football and other activities.
“It was really a great experience, to see the North Koreans not as the media portrays them,” he said.
Other features of the tour will include visits to amusement parks, the Munsu Waterpark, as well as pubs, bars and restaurants.
“I meet some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met (on North Korea tours),” Spavor said. “People who choose to go to North Korea are some of the most interesting people.”
Participants will arrive on the 28th, a Thursday, with the actual wrestling event to take place on the nights of August 30-31.
Spavor said that he has permission to take 20 tourists on the event and has already made reservations to accommodate 18. The cost for the trip is 1,600 euros (a little more than $2,100) but deposits of 300 euros (about $400) can be made, with the rest of the payment due by August 22. The deadline for U.S. citizens to make at least a deposit is August 13, while for non-U.S. citizens it’s August 17.
And despite some attention-grabbing arrests Spavor said those taking part in the tour could expect safety if they obeyed local laws. He said this was true of any country, be it the United States, China or European nations, and said that, compared to some of those places, the risk tourists in North Korea face from crimes like theft or muggings is very low.
“I’ve never had any problems taking tourists to the DPRK,” he said.
Main picture: Wrestling Classics
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