PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – The International Olympic Committee will facilitate participation by North Korean athletes in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as it did at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, IOC President Thomas Bach says.
“We will take the same approach in every respect with regard to Tokyo 2020 as we took with Pyeongchang 2018. . . . We have always applied strict political neutrality, and then the same we will do for Tokyo 2020,” Bach said in an interview with Kyodo News in Pyeongchang on Friday.
“We hope that we can continue to assist athletes from DPRK to prepare and then qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” Bach said, calling North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Bach also reiterated that he is planning to make a trip to the North at the invitation of the country’s National Olympic Committee, at a “mutually convenient date.”
“Since (the invitation) had been welcomed by all the delegations, we are now looking for a mutually convenient date. Then we will see whether we find one and when we find it,” he said.
“It will not be during the (Pyeongchang) Games, this I can say,” he added.
North Korea decided to take part in the Winter Olympics that kicked off on Feb. 9 despite soaring tensions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The country is under strict United Nations Security Council sanctions aimed at cutting off its sources for funding for those programs.
The two Koreas, which are technically still at war, marched together under a unified flag at the opening ceremony and formed a women’s ice hockey team for South Korea’s first Winter Games. It is the first time a unified Korean team has competed in an Olympics.
While noting that the U.N. sanctions should be respected, Bach said: “The joint march of the two Korea teams sends a very strong message of the Olympic values to the world there. I think everybody could see what the Olympic Games are about, bringing people together to understand each other and then respect each other and have peace.”
When asked whether a similar joint opening ceremony march or unified Korean team would be a feature at the Tokyo Olympics, Bach demurred.
“This is way too early. Let’s finish Pyeongchang 2018 and then see how the dialogue is going,” he said.”
Regarding Sapporo’s potential bid to host the 2026 Winter Games, Bach said the capital of Hokkaido, which has announced it is joining the race, is “in a very good position.”
But some observers are pessimistic about Sapporo’s chances, given it would be the third consecutive Winter Olympics held in Asia. After Pyeongchang, the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing.
Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Games, will likely have to duke it out with Stockholm, Calgary in Canada and Sion in Switzerland. Other cities have until the end of March to officially express interest before the host is decided next year.
If “we see an obstacle which we think is very difficult to overcome for one of these cities then we tell them,” Bach said. “Sapporo is very much welcome (to bid) because it is a traditional winter sports place, it has the facilities, therefore is in a very good position to become a candidate.”
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, organizers are under IOC pressure to slash costs.
But “despite the high cost level in Japan . . . we are confident that we will have a balanced budget in the end,” Bach said.
“The revenues are much, much, much higher than expected in particular with sponsorship,” he said, adding that ticket and merchandising revenue is also “promising to be higher than budgeted.”