Wrestling Diplomacy in Sudan
Within the past year, wrestling has become a terrific catalyst for diplomacy. It was wonderful to see the US, Russia, and Iran meeting together on the wrestling mat in New York City this past May during the “Rumble on the Rails.” The positive press that accompanied the event was tremendous for the sport of wrestling and the concept of peace-through-sports.
On the heels of ROTRs and the unity of the global wrestling community forged within the months between the IOC’s decision to drop wrestling from the Olympic Games and their reinstatement of the sport, we wanted to spotlight another project where wrestling has become the medium for diplomacy:
“I hope peace and stability will be achieved throughout Sudan including Nuba Mountains where Sudanese wrestling was originated. I will be very happy if many Sudanese from different parts and from different tribes come to Haj Yousef to support my opponent Sudanese wrester against a foreign, a Japanese wrestler. As we can see in the Olympics or World Cup games, sports could boost a sense of national unity under the one national flag. National identity is important to build an unified nation. I hope my challenge as a foreign wrestler will help Sudanese people to recognize their own identify, and peruse peace in Sudan.” - Yasuhiro Murotatsu
Mr. Murotatsu is a Foreign Service Officer within the Japanese embassy in Khartoum, Sudan. During his posting in Khartoum, Murotatsu has used his background as a former high school wrestler in Japan to build bridges not only between Japan and his host country, but between the many communities within Sudan.
“In the thousands of years of Sudanese Nuba wrestling history, there had never been anything like it: A barefoot Japanese diplomat in a tight-fitting blue singlet stepping onto the sandy pitch to take on Sudan’s toughest.”
Four times this year, Yasuhiro Murotatsu has challenged the Sudanese. Four times he has lost.
But “Muro” is not giving up.
He says his wrestling diplomacy highlights this “precious culture” and can help unite a divided country.
“Sudanese wrestling can be a symbol of a united Sudan. That’s why I am fighting. This is very important. I will be very happy if all tribes… come to Haj Yousef to support Sudanese wrestling.”
“We are fully convinced that this wrestling can unite Sudan,” says Al-Tayeb Ahmed Ajoan, the federation’s secretary general.
And that is Muro’s wish, as he sits on the edge of the circular red-earth pitch, stretching before his latest match.
Far away, people are fighting and dying in Sudan’s wars but here in the stadium, fans from different parts of the country have come together in joy.”
Mr. Murotatsu also believes that his participation in these matches will help foster interest for Sudanese wrestlers to look beyond their own borders. “Japan, will host the Olympic and Paralympics games in 2020. I, personally, hope my challenges to the Sudanese wrestling could encourage Sudanese wrestlers to challenge to the modern wrestling internationally. I have experienced and witnessed that Sudanese wrestlers are strong and I believe they have enough potential to compete with wrestlers in the world.”
Yasuhiro Murotatsu’s first match: