Soviet martial art aiming to build bridges in NI tournament

A martial art which originated in the Soviet Union is aiming to build bridges when it holds its first tournament in Northern Ireland this autumn.

Sambo is a Russian acronym meaning self-defence without weapons.

It has grown since 1920 to become a significant sport in more than 120 countries. The 2018 Northern Ireland Sambo President's Cup will be held in Ballymena in Co Antrim in September.

Alexander Korsik is the Moscow-based head of the President's Office of the International Sambo Federation.

He said: "Sport should be not about politics and it has to build bridges among the countries."

UK-Russia relations have been soured by the Salisbury poisoning incident, with the subsequent expulsion of diplomats.

Sambo, while hailing from the Soviet Union, is an international pursuit and draws on a range of combat styles.

Mr Korsik added: "Trying to create something universal - that was the idea."

Russia is just one of the many participating countries including the US, Canada, France, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

He said: "So I believe we just want to have a great sporting event, to bring people together, different countries, different athletes, this competition is always held in an atmosphere of great friendship and unity."

Organisers were persuaded to come to Ballymena after receiving wholehearted support from North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.

The tournament will be held in the Seven Towers Leisure Centre on Saturday 29 September.

Eight international teams will compete in the team event while 16 athletes will contest the Combat Grand Slam.

Almost 80 competitors will be involved. Countries already signed up include the US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ghana, Russia, Slovakia, Trinidad & Tobago and France.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Cllr Paul Reid, said: "These games are a first for Northern Ireland, and we are delighted that Mid and East Antrim is the preferred location.

"Our sports facilities are outstanding and we are more than capable of delivering a first-class and memorable Sambo."