Football: Japan gov't likely to allow entry to N. Korea teams

The Japanese government appears likely to allow North Korean football teams to enter the country in February and March to play respective qualification matches for the Paris Olympics and 2026 World Cup, multiple sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

The government will not ask Japanese teams to refrain from traveling to North Korea either, added the sources. A general ban has been in place on entry to Japan by those with North Korean citizenship as an independent sanction following repeated missile launches by the country, among other reasons.

"We cannot discriminate in sports based on political reasons," a government source said, stressing travel for sports remained an exception.

Japan's women's national team will face North Korea in the final Asian qualifying round for the Paris Games, first away on Feb. 24 and then at home four days later.

Japan men's team is scheduled to host an Asian second-round World Cup qualifier against North Korea on March 21 before playing the reverse fixture away five days later.

A source said strict identity checks would take place upon entry to Japan for the members of the North Korean teams.

North Korea imposed rigid border controls for its citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic and did not send a delegation to the Tokyo Games in 2021. It ended its moratorium on international sports by sending a delegation to the Asian Games, held between September and October this year in Hangzhou, China.

© Kyodo News