NORTH KOREA: Professional Wrestlers Tackle Isolation

RYAN LIPPERT WRITES – Could sports succeed where years of diplomacy have fallen flat?

On the heels of Dennis Rodman’s visits to the Hermit Kingdom, an international group of wrestlers, including athletes from Japan and the US, journeyed to North Korea recently to compete in a match before thousands of spectators. They visitors also played tug-of-war and arm wrestled with North Korean children.

ss-140831-north-korea-wrestling-06.nbcnews-ux-1080-700The match was part of the Pyongyang International Pro Wrestling Games, planned by former Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki, who now holds a position in the Japanese parliament and sees wrestling as a way to encourage better relations between one of the world’s most reclusive states and its neighbors.

At first, the crowd appeared bored.  As the match went on, however, attendees started furiously snapping pictures on their cell phones, a device that is still fairly new to the country.

While this event gave North Koreans some idea of what life is like in the rest of the world, it also gave the outside world yet another heavily sanitized version of North Korea’s truth. Journalists were allowed into the country, but every step   was carefully monitored. Even their tour of the country followed a path that had been previously designated by the administration. They showed journalists the country’s new waterpark, but made sure to steer clear of the country’s alleged concentration camps and starving families.

Diplomacy through wrestling is an unorthodox approach, but such approaches have brought about good results in the past, especially when combined with sincere efforts by each country’s governments to move towards peace and transparency. In the 70s, for example, ping-pong helped improve diplomatic relations between America and China.

Although continued efforts at diplomacy may lead to better relations between North Korea and the rest of the world, there is still much work to be done if there is to be any hope of a truly open dialogue.

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