An upcoming international pro-wrestling event to take place in Pyongyang at the end of August is a chance to create a better environment for Japanese-North Korean relations, the Japanese pro wrestler turned politician Antonio Inoki told a press conference on Thursday.
Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, Inoki hoped that the event would lead to eliminating prejudice and preconceptions by deepening exchanges between two nations.
The event will take place on August 30 – 31 and is organized by Inoki and North Korea’s International Martial Arts Games Committee Chairman Jang Ung.
“In a closed situation without any interactions, sports and peace are the only themes that nobody can oppose,” Inoki, 71, told reporters . “To open the door in such situations is a basis of diplomacy”.
“Unfortunately, for many years we have had all of these doors closed,” he continued.
Inoki has visited Pyongyang 29 times since 1994, and his upcoming 30th visit comes at a time when Japan’s Shinzo Abe administration is making some progress on the long-standing abduction issue with North Korea.
Pyongyang is expected to deliver its first report on its full-scale investigation into the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by its agents in the 1970s and 80s in September.
“In September we will see some answer (from Pyongyang) in regard to the abduction issue, and before that, I hope to help create an environment that enables more deep discussions at the governmental level,” said Inoki, currently a member of the upper house of Japan’s Diet (parliament).
“There is no reporting in Japan about what kind of messages North Korea wants to send us,” Inoki said. “By delivering those messages to the Japanese people and by deepening exchanges, we can eliminate prejudice and preconceptions.”
Inoki said the best way to improve the bilateral ties would be a visit by Prime Minister Abe to North Korea.
A press release, issued by an NGO whose head is Inoki and which strives to use sports to promote peace, said 21 wrestlers from Japan, the U.S., France, Brazil and China will take part in the event.
Among them are former IWGP Champions Kazuyuki Fujita and Bob Sapp, and a French kickboxer and K-1 fighter Jérôme Le Banner.
The event is to take place at Pyonyang’s Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Stadium. It will be broadcast live for the first time from Pyongyang on the internet by Japan’s online video service operator Nico Nico Douga.
This is not the first time Inoki has organized a wrestling event in Pyongyang: in April 1995, he put together a similar event at the Rungrado May Day Stadium, attracting about 380,000 local attendees over two days. With a capacity of more than 150,000 people, the stadium is regarded as the largest stadium in the world.
The event saw the final fight take place between Inoki and the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) Ric Flair, which Inoki won.
Asked about why this time he has organized the upcoming event at the smaller Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Stadium, which has a capacity of 15,000 people, Inoki said that the Rungrado May Day Stadium is under repair. In addition, he said that Pyongyang is willing to show the world the smaller stadium, which was donated by South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Group.
Inoki also said the execution of Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un’s uncle, last December impacted the planning of the event.
“Another point I like to make is that in 1995 there were no sanctions by Japan, but now there are plenty of sanctions by Japan, so within many constraints we are doing our best by not going against any laws,” Inoki said.
Inoki has maintained connections with North Korea because his former pro wrestling master Rikidozan – a national hero in Japan in the wake of its defeat in World War II – originally came from South Hamgyong province, North Korea.
Kim Yong Suk, Rikidozan’s daughter in Pyongyang, later married Pak Myong Chol, a former Minister of Physical Culture and Sports and councilor in the National Defense Commission (NDC).
Rikidozan found and scouted Inoki, then 17, in 1960 in Brazil during his professional wrestling tour to São Paulo. Inoki’s family had immigrated to Brazil when he was 13 due to dire poverty.
Inoki had a legendary career in pro wrestling from the 1960s to the 1990s. In the U.S. he is perhaps best known for fighting Muhammad Ali to a draw in a mixed rules fight in 1976.
Photo credit: NK News/Kosuke Takahashi
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