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With the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang coming up in February, it is still up in the air as to whether North Korea will compete at next year’s Games.
Tensions between the South and the North have skyrocketed since the summer, but with one of the world’s premier sporting events just around the corner, one still has to wonder if the hermit state will be sending athletes to compete against the world south of the border come February.
This past September, figure skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik qualified for the pairs competition following a sixth-place finish at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, however, their coach, Kim Hyon Son said in an interview with the New York Times that it would be up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to decide if they would be allowed to compete or not.
For his part, President Moon Jae-in has been vocal in encouraging the North to send athletes to the Games, in hope that it will open doors to future negotiations and cooperation in solving the current dispute between the two neighbors.
▲ Kim Yu-na at the PyeongChang 2018 One Year to Go Ceremony. Photo courtesy Korea.net
“I hope that North Korea will also participate, which will provide a very good opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation,” Moon said recently, adding that to this end, South Korea is “closely consulting and cooperating with the IOC.”
The last time an Olympics was held in South Korea back in 1988 in Seoul, North Korea boycotted the event, but Gangwon province is currently split and under the administration of both countries.
As a result of tensions, ticket sales have floundered to this point, with only about a third sold, but with the torch relay officially now on Korean soil, there is hope that interest in the Games will spike upwards in the weeks to come.
There is even the possibility of some countries staying home.
The head of Austria’s Olympic Committee was quoted in September as saying that “if the situation worsens and the security of our athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea.”
This sentiment was echoed by French Sports Minister Laura Flessel, who also commented that the French team would stay at home if security continued to be a concern.
Other countries such as Germany and Lithuania have said that they will wait until the Games are closer to making a final decision about whether to send their delegations.
The threat of war has loomed for some time now, but North Korea’s participation in the Games could signal the possibility that a peaceful solution to the conflict can still be found.
Many have argued in recent months that North Korea is, in fact, the number one problem on the international agenda, and with the Olympics fast approaching, the problem is becoming further magnified with each passing day.
While the figure skating pair has qualified and would participate pending a decision by the NOC, there is a possibility for North Korea to feature athletes, should they also qualify, in short track and the Nordic combined as well.
The Winter Games in Pyeongchang will commence on February 9th, and run until the 25th, with over one hundred medal events being contested in fifteen different disciplines.
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