1966 Japan North Korea South Korea

1966: South Korea, North Korea, and an FIG Judges’ Course in Japan

North Korea caused a lot of excitement before the 1970 World Championships. The country’s gymnasts were supposed to compete, which left many gymnastics pundits speculating about North Korea’s chances of placing in the men’s competition. For example, this is what a Swiss newspaper wrote:

The Koreans, in the opinion of Bulgarian specialists, who visited them, do not train less than eight hours a day, at the rate of five practices per week, and, when one knows their natural gifts, one can be certain that their participation “will hurt.” From there, we will have, in our opinion, a peloton comprising the United States, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Switzerland fighting for 5th place.

L’Express, Oct. 22, 1970

Les Coréens, de l’avis de spécialistes bulgares, qui les visitèrent, ne s’entraînent pas moins de huit heures par jour, à raison de cinq entraînements par semaine et, lorsqu’on connaît leurs dons naturels, on peut être certain que leur entrée « fera mal ». Dès lors, on aura, à notre avis, un peloton comprenant, les Etats-Unis, la Tchécoslovaquie, la Pologne et la Suisse luttant pour la 5me place. 

North Korea’s road to participating in FIG competitions and events was a bumpy one, to say the least. While it was hard to gain information on North Korean gymnastics in the 1960s, one story was reported extensively.

At the end of June 1966, the FIG hosted a judges’ course in Tokyo. North Korean delegates were supposed to attend, but there were some hiccups. Let’s take a look at what happened.

Downtown Tokyo streetscape, 1966, Japan, incorporating flyovers and elevated railways

One Quick Historical Touchpoint about Japanese-South Korean Relations

To understand what’s happening in the articles below, there’s one key historical touchpoint that you have to understand. In June of 1965, Japan and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) signed the Treaty on Basic Relations despite widespread opposition in South Korea.

In this treaty, Japan agreed to recognize the Republic of Korea as the only government on the Korean Peninsula:

It is confirmed that the Government of the Republic of Korea is the only lawful Government in Korea as specified in the Resolution 195 (III) of the United Nations General Assembly.

In other words, the treaty barred Japan from recognizing the North Korean government.

So, when Japan gave visas to North Koreans for a FIG judges’ training course held in Tokyo in 1966, it caused an uproar in the South Korean press. Let’s take a look at a few of the articles…

Note: While Japan may not have had diplomatic relations with North Korea, the two countries had economic relations in the 1960s. By the end of the 1960s, Japan became the DPRK’s third-largest trading partner, after the Soviet Union and China. North Korea–Japan trade in 1961 of 8 million dollars rose to 31.4 million dollars in 1965 and 57.8 million in 1970. (Chin O. Chung, P’yongyang between Peking and Moscow)

Note#2: Japan and the Korean Peninsula have a long, thorny history. If you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend starting with this book: Ku, Yangmo; Lee, Inyeop;Woo, Jongseok. Politics in North and South Korea.

Note #3: I do not have access to North Korea’s side of the story.

The South Korean Perspective

In accordance with the Treaty on Basic Relations, Japan had not allowed North Korean engineers to enter the country. However, the foreign office was poised to let North Korean gymnastics judges enter the country for a judges’ course.

Japan, an attempt to allow entry again

This time, the representative of North Korea in the gymnastics judges’ class

The Japanese government, which withheld the entry permit of North Korean engineers, is becoming a new issue between the two countries as it is moving to allow North Korean representatives to enter the Asian Gymnastics judges’ class held in Tokyo for three days from June 28.

An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on the 23rd that the Japanese government has an attitude that it is difficult to refuse entry because the lecture is hosted by the International Gymnastics Federation, suggesting that North Korea’s representative could enter the country, but it is now difficult to determine the result as Kim Dongjo, an Ambassador to Japan, is holding diplomatic negotiation for preventing entry.


이번엔 체조심판강습(體操審判講習) 북괴대표(北傀代表)에

북괴(北傀)기술자의 입국(入國)허가를일단 보류한 일본정부(日本政府)는 오는 6월28일부터 사흘동안동경(東京)에서 열리는 아시아체조심판(體操審判)강습회에 북괴(北傀)대표의입국(入國)을 허용할 움직임을 보이고 있어 한일(韓日) 두나라 사이에 새쟁점(爭點)이 되고있다.

외무부(外務部)당국자는 23일 일본(日本)정부가 이번강습회는 국제체조연맹(國際體操聯盟)이 주최하는 행사이므로 입국(入國)을거부하기어렵다는 태도를 갖고 있다고 말하여 북괴(北傀)대표의 일본입국(日本入國) 가능을 시사했으나김동조주일대사(金東祚駐日大使)가 지금 입국(入國)을 막기위한 외교교섭을벌이고 있으므로 결과는 속단하기 어렵다고덧붙였다.

Chosun Ilbo, May 24, 1966

The plot thickened because one of the judges was trying to enter Japan by reportedly using a false name.

North Korean athletes who are permitted to enter the country of Japan.

Frustrated attendance in the lecture class

Four North Korean athletes who were allowed to enter Japan to attend the International Gymnastics Federation Far East and Middle East International Judges’ Accreditation Lectures held in Tokyo starting on the 28th are currently not entering the country on the afternoon of the 27th, and attendance at the lecture class from the 28th became virtually impossible.

According to the Japan Sports Council Gymnastics Association, it was revealed that one out of four people who were granted entry voluntarily gave up their attendance for health reasons, and another person was found to have used a false name to apply for an entry permit, and his/her permission was revoked from the immigration authorities.

In the end, only two people attended, and it is known that they are currently waiting in Bukpyeong after entering through Bukpyeong and Hong Kong.

According to an official from the Japan Sports Association, they are strongly seeking re-entry of a colleague whose entry permit was revoked while using a false name, but so far, no reply has been made on the 27th, and they are not yet sure whether the other two will enter the country.

일(日) 입국(入國)허가된북괴체육인(北傀體育人)


【동경(東京)=동화(同和)】28일부터 동경(東京)에서 열리는 국제(國際)체조연맹극동(極東)및 중동지구(中東地區) 국제공인심판원강습회(國際公認審判員講習會)에 참석(參席)하기위해 일본입국(日本入國)이 허용(許容)된 4명의 북괴체육인(北傀體育人)은 27일 오후 현재 입국(入國)하지 않고있어 28일부터의 강습회참석(講習會參席)은 사실상 불가능(不可能)하게 되었다.

일본체육회(日本體育會) 체조협회에의하면 입국허가(入國許可)된 4명 가운데서 1명은 건강상(健康上) 이유(理由)로 자진(自進)하여 참석(參席)을 포기했고 또한명은입국허가(入國許可)를신청(申請)할때 가명(假名)을 사용한 사실이 밝혀져 출입국(出入國) 관리당국(管理當局)에서 허가(許可)를 취소 당했다.

결국2명만이 참석(參席)하게된이들은 북평(北平),홍콩을거쳐입구(入口)코자 현재 북평(北平)에서대기중인것으로 알려졌다

일본체육협회관계자(日本體育協會關係者)에 의하면 이름은 가명(假名)을 사용하다가 입국허가(入國許可)를 취소(取消)당한 동료의 재입국(再入國)을 강력(强力)히 요망(要望),북평(北平)에서 대기중인데 일본법무성(日本法務省)은 27일현재까지 아무런 회답(回答)이 없어 과연 나머지 2명이라도 입국(入國)할지 아직알수없다고 말했다.

Chosun Ilbo, June 28, 1966

According to the South Koreans, there were two victories during the Asian Gymnastics Union General Assembly.

First, it sounded as if the North Korean judges weren’t going to pass the judges’ exam.

Second, during the meetings of the Asian Gymnastics Union, the member states passed bylaws, making North Korea’s membership virtually impossible.

Stop the North Koreans from joining.

Our representative performance having an impact at the Aju Sports Council

[Correspondent Kim Inho from Tokyo] At the Asian Gymnastics Union General Assembly held here on the evening of the 1st, Korean representatives stopped the attempt for the membership of the North Korea.

The General Assembly of the Asian Gymnastics Union, held at the Palace Hotel for two and a half hours starting at 6 p.m., decided to require the consent of four-fifths of the member states to adopt the protocol, making accession to North Korea virtually impossible.

Additionally, the Gymnastics Federation of the Far East and Middle-Near East Judges’ Class, which began on the 28th, ended at 5 p.m. on the same day, and Kim Kyung-soo, Park Gil-joon, Jang Su-an, and others of South Korea received a certificate of training, and will receive a certificate of acceptance from the International Gymnastics Federation Technical Committee, but Kim Kyung-hwan of North Korea, who attended a day later, gave up taking a lecture, and Dong In-deok received a certificate of training, but he missed the class a day and was known to have poor grades, making it difficult to pass.


Gondo, from Japan, simply mentioned that there was a request to join from North Korea, but it wasn’t even on the official agenda.

북괴가입(北傀加入)을 저지(沮止)


【동경(東京)에서 본사특파원김인호발(本社特派員金寅昊發)】1일저녁 이곳에서열린 아시아체조연맹(聯盟)총회에서 한국(韓國)대표들은 북괴(北傀)의 가입(加入)기도를저지시켰다.

이날 저녁6시부터 2시간반동안에 걸쳐 팔레스 호텔에서 열린 아시아체조연맹(聯盟)총회는 규약채택에 있어연맹가입(聯盟加入)규정을 회원국(會員國)5분의4이장의 동의를 얻어야하도록 결정함으로써 북괴(北傀)의 가입(加入)이 사실상 불가능하도록 만든것이다.

또한 지난28일부터 시작된 체조연맹(體操聯盟) 극동(極東) 중근동(中近東)지구 심판원(審判員) 강습회는 이날오후5시에 끝났는데 한국(韓國)의 김경수(金璟洙) 박길준(朴吉俊) 장수안(張壽颜)씨등은 강습수료증을 받았으며,국제체조연맹(國際體操聯盟) 기술위원회(技術委員會)로부터 합격증(合格證)을 받을것으로 알려졌는데 하루늦게참석한 북괴(北傀)의 김경환(金慶煥)은 이강습을 받기를 포기했으며동인덕(董仁徳)은 수료증은 받았으나 하쿠 결강(缺講)했고 성적이좋지않은 것으로 알려져 합격(合格)은 어려울것으로보인다.


북괴가입(北傀加入)문제는 일본(日本)의곤도씨가 가입(加入)요청이 있었다고 간단히 언급했을뿐 정식의제로조차 오르지못했었다.

Chosun Ilbo, July 2, 1966

The Japanese Perspective

Japan’s stance was that this was a matter of sport — not diplomacy. In other words, they weren’t recognizing the North Korean government — just allowing its sporting officials to enter the country.

Entry Permit for North Koreans

Japanese immigration authorities Tuesday said they would permit four North Korean amateur sports experts to enter Japan for the international gymnastics judge training seminar here June 28-30.

The decision was announced by the Immigration Control Bureau of the Justice Ministry.

The authorities ruled the visit by the North Koreans permissible because it is “purely a matter of sports” and has nothing to do with the exchange of athletes.

It is the third time Japan has made an exception to the rule and has permitted communist North Korea to send representatives to Japan. The two previous cases were the 1963 world speed skating championships held in Karuizawa and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The June 28-30 seminar on judging gymnastics matches is being sponsored by Japan at the request of the International Gymnastics Federation. Its purpose is to give international recognition and qualification to judges and gymnastics experts of member nations.

The Yomiuri, June 22, 1966

Even though the South Korean government was upset, the Japanese government held firm. 

ROK Govt Displeased

South Korean Foreign Minister Lee Tong Won told the National Assembly today he would do his best to block the expected entry to Japan of four North Koreans for the international gymnastics judge training seminar in Tokyo June 28-30.

Lee said, however, Japan’s granting entry for the four North Koreans would not violate any particular article of the Japan-South Korean diplomatic normalization treaty signed last year.

The Yomiuri, June 23, 1966

So what? Why does it matter?

This incident illustrates the challenges that the FIG faced during the Cold War. Geopolitics made everything from choosing locations for judges’ courses to selecting countries for competitions challenging. (Reminder: In 1969, they had to cancel the qualifications process for the World Championships due to visa issues.)

It also shows how contentious continental organizations could be. According to the report above, the Asian Gymnastics Union all but ensured the exclusion of North Korea, and it makes me curious about the ongoing political maneuvering in today’s continental organizations.

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