North Korean soccer teams arrive in Japan on specially issued visas

Kyodo

North Korea’s men’s and women’s national soccer teams arrived Tuesday at Tokyo’s Haneda airport from Beijing, gaining entry with visas issued despite Japan’s ongoing ban on citizens from the country.

The players are scheduled to take part in the East Asian Football Federation’s upcoming E-1 Football Championship, in which Japan, China, South Korea and North Korea will compete.

Tokyo has banned North Korean nationals from entering the country as part of unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang over its continued development and tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, but the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Monday granted visas to the teams as an exceptional case, Japanese government sources said.

Dozens of people related to the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, including students of a Korean school, awaited the arrival of the athletes at Haneda airport, cheering in Korean when they appeared in the arrival lobby.

The players waved and smiled as the students sang a song to welcome them.

Police have boosted security around the teams’ hotels and match venues to prevent any trouble from anti-North Korean activists.

Women’s matches will begin on Friday and the men will play from Saturday.

The North Korean teams left Pyongyang last Saturday and stopped over in Beijing before flying to Tokyo.

Japan also made an exception to allow North Korean athletes to enter the country for the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo in February.