Basketball Diplomacy

South Korea's Hyundai Group said yesterday it is arranging to play a friendly basketball match in September with a North Korean team in Pyongyang.

"Hyundai's team will be able to play with a North Korean team next month," a Hyundai Group official said. "We have been talking with North Koreans about the match for some time."

Hyundai is expected to send its professional men's team, which plays in the South Korean basketball league, he said.

South and North Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Last week, workers from the rival Koreas competed in soccer matches in Pyongyang as part of celebrations leading up to the 54th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan.

Poland

Soccer Rebirth?

Poland's soccer authorities on Friday announced a new soccer competition and an independent premier league in the latest attempts to bring life back to the ailing national game, which has deteriorated since producing a World Cup semifinalist in 1974.

The soccer federation dropped its opposition to an independent Polish league run by top clubs and backed the new body's first project, a cup competition for the country's top 16 clubs. The League Cup will boost the finances of the major teams through cable and satellite television operator Canal Plus, which is sponsoring the competition and offering prize money worth 1.4 million zlotys ($353,000) to the winner.

Canada

News in Abuse Case

A group of hockey officials and organizations being sued by a former player who was sexually abused by his coach filed a defense motion Monday denying responsibility. Sixteen groups and individuals, including the Canadian Hockey Association and the Western Hockey League, filed a joint statement of defense at Court of Queen's Bench in Regina, Saskatchewan. They deny charges that they knew former Swift Current Broncos coach Graham James had "sexually assaulted, molested, harassed and abused" players.

James is on parole after serving a prison sentence for sexually abusing former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and another player.

The man behind the lawsuit, who can't be identified, was abused as a teen player with the Broncos. He is suing 24 individuals and organizations, including James.

In the lawsuit, the man claims the defendants knew James molested players and could have prevented him from coaching in the WHL.

But Aaron Fox, the lawyer for 16 of the defendants, said that's not true.

"They weren't aware of any impropriety going on between the plaintiff in this case and Graham James," he said.

The suit calls for damages in excess of $1 million along with compensation for mental suffering and lost economic opportunity.

The man's parents also filed a lawsuit, naming many of the same organizations and individuals. They want $50,000 and demand that those involved acknowledge their responsibility.

Belgium

Soccer Coach Fired

Georges Leekens, the Belgian national soccer coach, was fired on Friday just nine months ahead of the 2000 European championships his nation is due to co-host with the Netherlands.

The Belgian soccer union replaced Leekens with former Standard Liege and Sporting Lisbon coach Robert Waseige, who will take charge through Euro 2000. Leekens took over in January 1997. After initially turning around the national side's fortunes, he paid the price for a run of poor results that has seen Belgium slump to 33rd in the world rankings.

In 28 matches as coach of the national team, Leekens's squad was 10-8-10. The catalyst for his early departure proved to be Wednesday's rain-soaked 4-3 home loss to Finland, a nation ranked 59th in the world.

Australia/Romania

Wrestlers Claim Political Asylum

Four young Romanian wrestlers in Australia for an Olympic test event quit their team and claimed political asylum, police and officials said Thursday.

The four, in their late teens and early 20s, arrived in Sydney for the world junior freestyle championships which began Thursday.

On Wednesday they took a train to the town of Bomaderry, south of Sydney, before walking to a nearby village and telling a customer in the village store they wanted to claim asylum.

The customer put the wrestlers, who speak little English, in contact with police.

Sydney Olympic officials said they are not concerned about the prospect of a flood of asylum requests during the 2000 Games and could not do anything to prevent athletes from trying to stay in Australia.

"The security fence at the Olympic Village is to keep people out -- not to keep athletes in," said Michael Knight, president of the Sydney Olympic organizing committee.