SEOUL – North Korea appears to be specifying the lifting of sanctions imposed on the rogue state as a condition for the formation of a single, combined team representing the two Koreas at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, local media reported Monday.
Commenting just two hours after South Korean President Moon Jae In proposed the single team on Saturday, North Korea’s sole member of the International Olympic Committee, Chang Ung, told a Channel A TV reporter that “politics lies above sports, according to the Dong a Ilbo newspaper.
“(The) political environment should be addressed,” added Chang, speaking in Muju, south of Seoul, after the opening ceremony there of the World Taekwondo Championships which were also attended by Moon. Chang was visiting South Korea in the company of the North Korean taekwondo exhibition team.
His remarks were interpreted as an effective rejection of Moon’s offer, and a suggestion that South Korea’s sanctions against the North “should be addressed first if sports exchanges such as formation of a single team can happen.”
It said that besides sanctions imposed on North Korea in recent years over its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, Pyongyang also seeks the lifting of those imposed on May 24, 2010.
That is when Seoul cut off most inter-Korean exchanges, including tourism, trade and private aid, after accusing Pyongyang of a torpedo attack on a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors.
Moon, in his speech in Muju, said he is seeking the cooperation of the International Olympic Committee and North Korea in realizing his proposal for a joint team, which would “greatly contribute to the Olympic values of friendship and world peace.”
IOC President Thomas Bach is scheduled to visit Muju on Friday, and to hold talks with Moon in Seoul the following Monday.
Last week, South Korea’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Do Jong Hwan said that North Korea’s “top-class” Masikryong Ski Resort could be a potential venue for events in next year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. He also proposed forming a joint women’s hockey team.
The Games will be held Feb. 9-25.
Citing a World Taekwondo official, Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday that the North’s representative Chang, while in Muju, had expressed misgivings about forming a joint Korean team due to the time crunch.
“When we fielded a joint team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships, there were 22 rounds of inter-Korean talks, and they took five months,” he was quoted as saying at a dinner reception Saturday. “That is the reality that we’re faced with.”
As for moving some skiing races to Masikryong, Chang said, “As an Olympic expert, (I think) it’s a bit late.”