Irish journalist and broadcaster Matt Cooper is among a delegation traveling to North Korea for leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday celebrations. The group includes retired US basketball player Dennis Rodman.
The Today FM presenter is traveling in what his employers stated is a ‘’personal capacity’’ to research a book and is also working with an English production company on an upcoming TV documentary.
The production will focus on a basketball match between former NBA players who are playing against a communist side on Wednesday to celebrate the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Cooper was spotted when he was filmed by Sky News among the delegation at Beijing airport where Rodman was being interviewed by reporters.
Rodman has taken on the role of coach for the national team, which landed in the country on Monday afternoon flanked by a troop of 11 retired NBA players.
Rodman previously described Jong-un as a "friend for life." But the pair could be set for their first argument, as Rodman confirmed to reporters at Beijing Airport that he would approach the subject of human rights with his friend "when the time comes."
"I am not going to sit there and go in and say 'hey guy, you’re doing the wrong thing'," he told Sky News.
"That’s not the right thing to do. He’s my friend first. "I tell the world: he’s my friend, I love him."
Asked whether he was aware of hundreds of thousands of political prisoners locked up in North Korea, he said: “Are you aware that lots of people in America is locked up like that too? I’m not a president, I’m just a guy.”
Rodman said he will not interfere in the country’s politics. “People always say that North Korea is like a really communist country, that people are not allowed to go there,” he told reporters. “I just know the fact that, you know, to me he’s a nice guy, to me.”
Just before Christmas, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power withdrew sponsorship of Rodman’s event, saying this was as a result of general condemnation of the Pyongyang regime.
This followed the rare public purge of leader Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was executed last month.
The company said it “took a back seat” after those events but would still “honor all of its contractual obligations.”