A top North Korean sports official voiced doubts over a proposal by South Korean President Moon Jae-In to form a unified Olympic team, citing political tensions and a lack of time, a report said. The comment by Chang Ung, the North’s delegate to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came after Moon suggested that two Koreas pool their athletes to form a joint team for the 2018 Winter Games, which the South is hosting. The South and the nuclear-armed North are separated by one of the world’s most heavily-armed borders and remain technically at war after the Korean War ended with armistice in 1953 instead of a peace treaty, and Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Organisers of Pyeongchang 2018 have urged it to take part to make them a “peace Olympics”.
But unlike the summer version, the winter games have minimum qualifications because of the risks inherent in snow and ice sports, and so far no North Korean athletes have met the required standards.
That raises the prospect that none will attend, even if political issues over the North’s nuclear and missile ambitions do not intrude. A unified group could allow North Koreans to take part in team events such as ice hockey. But with only seven months to go before the Games open in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang, Chang said there was not enough time to reach an agreement.
“From a point of an Olympics expert, it is already too late,” Chang told South Korean cable news outlet Channel A at the opening of the World Taekwondo Championships in the South. A former national basketball captain and the North’s sole IOC member, Chang stressed that so-called sports diplomacy takes months of painstaking preparations and political coordination. The two Koreas held more than 20 meetings over six months before forming a unified team for the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, he added. “The political situation should be resolved first. Politics lies above sports,” Chang told Channel A late Sunday, adding that the ping-pong diplomacy that helped improve China-US ties in the 1970s came after years of political negotiations.
“The achievement was made using ping pong as a catalyst, because a political foundation was already laid out,” he said, adding: “The world says ping pong made everything happen, but it’s not true.”
The South’s new President Moon, who took helm in May, advocates engagement with the North to bring it to negotiating table and Seoul’s sports minister Do Jong-Hwan has also suggested holding some Olympic events at a ski resort in the North. But Chang expressed scepticism, saying: “It’s easier said than done.”