IFBA has refused to sanction Pyongyang matches

SEOUL, South Korea -- A sports promoter has a different idea
about how North Korea and South Korea should reconcile. He thinks
they should use their fists.

Female boxers from the two countries will fight each other for
the first time Tuesday in the North's capital of Pyongyang in bouts
sponsored by Park Sang-kwon's newly created World Boxing Council

"This is the power of sports bringing the North and South
closer," Park told The Associated Press last week by fax from
North Korea.

But Park's ambitions to use boxing to improve relations between
the Koreas are causing a tussle of their own in the world of
women's boxing.

The California-based International Female Boxers Association,
one of the two main sanctioning bodies for women's boxing, said
last week it would vacate the titles of two North Korean fighters
set to box Tuesday: Kim Kwang Ok and Ryu Myung Ok. The IFBA has
refused to sanction the Pyongyang matches.

"I think that [Park's] intentions there are honorable to try to
have the sport promote the relationship between the two Koreas. But
he went too far, he's created his own little business," said Rick
Kulis, founder of the IFBA.

Kulis accused Park of a conflict of interest by heading the
boxing association and also promoting the North Korean fighters,
creating a potentially unfair situation for foreign fighters.

The verbal jabs by the rival groups have the fighters caught in
the middle.

South Korea's Son Cho-long, 18, originally was to fight in
Pyongyang. But her promotion company, fearing two of its clients
who are IFBA champions might lose their titles, canceled her bout.

"I had finished preparing for the match and the match is
gone," Son said. "I had looked forward to it, but the opportunity
will come again as I keep boxing."

Son's promoter, Hwang Ki, expressed frustration at Park's
interest in North Korean boxing, calling the bouts a sham aimed at
awarding meaningless titles to North Koreans.

"He will give the three North Korean kids the belts ... and
they will tout themselves for it," Hwang said.

Park responds by saying he's promoting the North Korean fighters
simply because no one else would. He said he's visited the North 95
times -- where he also runs a car company -- and sees his work as
fostering reunification of the Koreas.

"North Korea has over 2,000 male and female boxers. I want to
rebuild the world's boxing based on North Korea's powerful
boxers," Park stated.

Park also plans to appoint a North Korean vice president of the
WBCF. The WBCF is the women's branch of the World Boxing Council.
Muhammad Ali's daughter, Laila Ali, became the second WBCF champion
earlier this month.

This week's bouts are just one area where the two Koreas are
moving closer after more than a half-century of remaining
technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a
cease-fire. More than 1 million South Korean tourists have visited
the North's Diamond Mountain resort, and a joint economic zone just
inside the North is ramping up production.

Tuesday's boxing match isn't the first attempt to bridge the gap
through sports. The Koreas have played each other in soccer and
basketball, and even competed on the same side in table tennis and
soccer in 1991. In the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics, athletes from
the two Koreas walked into the opening ceremony hand in hand
carrying the blue-and-white flag of unified Korea, although they
maintained separate teams for competition.

The boxing matches are drawing strong interest in Pyongyang,
Park said. South Korean boxer Han Min-joo traveled Saturday to the
North to fight in Son's place.

"I am so nervous to be standing on Pyongyang soil," Han
Min-joo told South Korea's Yonhap news agency before her departure
to fight Han Yon Soon of North Korea. "I think a good opportunity
has been given to me, and I will try my best in the competition."

One of the bouts features Yvonne Caples, a 33-year-old English
teacher who started boxing at the University of California and
trains in Las Vegas. She will fight North Korean Choi Eun Soon for
the WBCF flyweight title.