Channel NewsAsia

Japanese politician to organise wrestling festival in N Korea

Despite having no diplomatic ties, a Japanese politician is set to organise a two-day wrestling festival in North Korea. 

TOKYO: Despite having no diplomatic ties, a Japanese politician is set to organise a two-day wrestling festival in North Korea. A wrestler-turned-politician, Antonio Inoki wants to use his brand of sporting diplomacy to warm ties between the two Asian neighbours.

The Brazil-raised Inoki is not your average Japanese politician. He comes to news conferences with his trademark music playing and his greeting booming with adrenaline. "Are you happy? As long as you are happy you can do anything. That's been my key phrase for many years," said Mr Inoki, who is an Upper House member.

Mr Inoki is organising a sporting festival in North Korea - a country with which Japan has no diplomatic ties. In July, he and his delegation inspected the gymnasium where the event is expected to be held. He is not supported by the Japanese government as he is a member of the opposition party, but he believes it is important to use sports as a peaceful means of diplomacy.

At the same time he is careful with his behaviour given Japan's policy towards North Korea. Economic sanctions against North Korea have been in place since its missile tests in 2006. "With so many restrictions, it's looking at how to pay the athletes, how much money we can carry. We had to be careful not to violate our law. So we asked them to take part with a volunteer spirit," explained Mr Inoki.

The scale of the event is expected to be much smaller than when he himself appeared in the ring back in 1995 in Pyongyang. Then, he attracted over 300,000 spectators at the two-day event. This time, the venue fits only 15,000 but he is still able to head such an event because of his longstanding ties with North Korea.

The sports festival takes place when Japanese and North Korean foreign ministry officials are in negotiations to find the details of Japanese abducted during the 70s and 80s - on the whereabouts of Japanese wives married to North Korean men and the whereabouts of the remains of Japanese abductees.

The state of progress is expected to be reported in September and Mr Inoki wishes to contribute. "There will be an answer to the abduction issue in September. I would like to set a good environment before that. I wish for a quicker, deeper, conservation to take place between the two governments. I think the best move is for Prime Minister Abe himself to visit," he said.

Mr Inoki is hoping for good luck for his event and ended his news conference on a high. The coming trip will be Mr Inoki's 30th trip to North Korea.The sports festival will be held over two days from August 30 to 31.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia