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Wrestling for Peace Festival entertains Peshawarites
Muhammad Hussain Inoki visits Peshawar to send a message of peace to the world.
By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Thousands of entertainment-seeking Peshawarites watched Japanese wrestlers compete in the Wrestling for Peace Festival, organised by wrestler Muhammad Hussain Inoki (formerly Antonio Inoki), at Qayyum Stadium December 5.
"I am here to present the soft image of Pakistan and Peshawar to the world," Inoki said amid a roaring welcome by thousands of spectators before he broke into a dance as a band played local folk tunes.
Inoki, 69, and his companions received a warm welcome when they reached the packed and tightly guarded stadium. Inoki started his freestyle wrestling career in 1960 and retired in 1998.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government and KP Tourism Corporation arranged the event to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Japan.
KP Sports and Culture Minister Syed Aqil Shah, KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain and a number of officials from various sporting bodies greeted him.
"The success of the Wrestling for Peace Festival is the success of the guests and of KP," Shah added. "It will send a positive message from the province."
KP officials arranged for about 20,000 spectators to watch, Shah said. "It is for love of the Pakistani nation that I am here in this country for the fourth time," Inoki, who last visited Pakistan in 1984, told the crowd.
International competition coming
The 10 Japanese wrestlers – Yusuke Kawaguchi, Thaka Kusou, Kendo Kishin, Shogun Okamoto, Joh Akira, Kazuyuki Fujita, Nobuyuki Kurashima, Atisushi Sawada, Sinichi Suzukawa and Hideki Suzuki – wrestled each other to entertain the crowd and demonstrate their skills.
In the friendly matches, Kishin beat Akira, Kusou defeated Kurashima, Suzukawa beat Kawaguchi, Suzuki beat Sawada and Fujita defeated Okamoto.
The Japanese wrestlers’ visit precedes a related international contest, the Bacha Khan Wrestling for Peace Festival, which will take place December 7-9, with teams from Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh competing, Iftikhar said.
"We want to give a message of peace by holding this kind of gala," Iftikhar said. "We want to tell the world that we are a peace-loving nation."
Tight security as big sports events return to Peshawar
Heavy police contingents protected central Peshawar and surrounded the stadium. Students from public schools in the KP-4 constituency were invited to attend the event for free. Buses transported student fans from universities in Mardan and other cities.Officials hung banners and posters throughout Peshawar to attract spectators.
"Entry was free to encourage the fans of wrestling and the students of different schools to turn up at the stadium and watch one of the historic sporting events in Peshawar," event organiser Zahid Hussain told Central Asia Online.
Workers installed a two-tonne wrestling ring in the centre of the stadium. Exhibition matches of indigenous games, including kabaddi, also took place.
"We have been hearing the name of Inoki since our childhood when he clashed with Akki Pehlwan," local sports fan Omar Farooq said. "This is an honour to see him in my city with 10 of his companions who exhibited quality wrestling in the ring."
Peshawar hadn’t hosted a major international sporting event since February 2006, when the Pakistani and Indian cricket teams clashed at Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium.
The city that has produced seven world squash champions has not hosted an international squash match for many years.
Inoki to train Pakistanis
The Punjab government is seeking to promote wrestling in Pakistan, Deputy Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Mashood Ahmad said.
"Pakistani talent will be given proper training, and during the next visit, they will compete with the Japanese wrestlers," Ahmad said, referring to a planned wrestling school.
Inoki has agreed to train talented Pakistani wrestlers so they can compete internationally.
"Pakistan has talented wrestlers who just need some training to dominate the world," he said. "I am here to look for the talent and provide them freestyle wrestling training so they can participate in international wrestling competitions."
Inoki is training a 13-year-old nephew of the late Jhara Pehlwan, a former Pakistani wrestler, and has promised to make the boy one of the world’s best wrestlers.
Inoki’s visit to Pakistan
Inoki embraced Islam in 1990 during a trip to Iraq and took the name Muhammad Hussain Inoki.
During the first part of his trip, he visited Lahore, where Punjab Chief Minister Mian Sharif announced the establishment of a wrestling academy, the one mentioned by Ahmad, under Sharif’s patronage.
Inoki was advised to postpone his trip, in light of Pakistan’s security situation.
"Now I am here, but I don’t see anything wrong in the country,” he said. “So far I have enjoyed my stay and the love of the people in Pakistan."