North Korea on ice: Canadian plans hockey tournament in Pyongyang

Wed Jan 27, 2016 4:10pm EST
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By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) - A Canadian man behind a series of trips to North Korea by basketball hall of famer Dennis Rodman is organizing an ice hockey tournament that may draw former National Hockey League (NHL) players to the isolated country.

Announcement of the event comes days after North Korea said it had detained U.S. university student Otto Warmbier, 21, for what state media described as a "hostile act".

The tournament, scheduled for March 7-11 in the capital, Pyongyang, will raise money for sporting equipment for disabled North Korean athletes, said Michael Spavor, who runs the Paektu Cultural Exchange, which promotes engagement with North Korea.

He said some former NHL players had expressed interest in participating but declined to identify them. Some Canadians were among the non-professionals who would take part, said Spavor, who is based in China.

Relations between North Korea and Canada have been strained since the North last year arrested and sentenced a South Korean-born Canadian pastor to life for subversion.

Heavily sanctioned North Korea drew condemnation for its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and will likely face more sanctions from the United Nations in response.

It is unclear if those sanctions would affect tourism or cultural and sporting exchanges.

"While Pastor Lim's and Mr Warmbier's situations are regrettable, it would be inappropriate for me to get involved or comment on these serious consular issues which need to be dealt with officially between governments," Spavor told Reuters.   Continued...

North Korean children walk past a standing signboard depicting ice hockey in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated handout picture. REUTERS/Michael Spavor/Handout via Reuters