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Seoul to host 2019 Sports Festival

Mayor Park hopes that athletes from the North will participate
Nov 01,2018
Seoul will host the annual National Sports Festival, which features thousands of athletes competing in 50 events, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 next year.

The Korean capital last hosted the sporting festival in 1986.

“There will be 17 teams representing cities and provinces of Korea, and an additional 18 international teams consisting of athletes of Korean descent,” the city government said in its statement on Wednesday. “A total of 69 stadiums and athletic facilities in Seoul will host the events, which are expected to draw some 30,000 athletes.”

The festival will be followed by the 39th National Para Games in the city, which will run for five days starting on Oct. 15.

The Seoul city government said it will be coordinating with embassies here to see if any foreign nationals residing in Korea would like to form a team to enter the events.

North Korean athletes may also be joining, though not as an official team, according to the tourism and sports bureau of the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

“While we are not completely ruling out the possibility of a North Korean team participating in the event,” said Joo Yong-tae, head of the bureau, at a press conference at Seoul City Hall on Wednesday. “We think their participation will more likely be in the form of joining an inter-Korean exhibition game during the festival, perhaps a friendly soccer match, or sending a cheering squad to celebrate the festival.”

The National Sports Festival was held for the first time in 1920.

“Before the country gained its independence in 1945, the National Sports Festival was partaken in by people of both Koreas,” the city government said in its statement. “So it would hold symbolic value for the two Koreas to come together.”

Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. It gained independence in 1945, but the country was split after the Korean War (1950-53), which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The Seoul city government once planned to host the festival with Pyongyang.

Mayor Park Won-soon said during an inter-Korean Taekwondo festival at City Hall in February that he “hopes the opening ceremony will be hosted in Seoul and the closing ceremony in Pyongyang.”

But the plan was overshadowed by the Moon Jae-in administration’s announcement in September of its plan for a joint bid for the Summer Olympics in 2032 with North Korea.

Park, who traveled with Moon to Pyongyang that month, announced upon his return that he wants Seoul to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics with Pyongyang.

“Now that the leaders of the two Koreas have announced the plan to bid for the Olympics together, I think we ought to be focusing on that,” Park said in his meeting with reporters during a trip to Europe in October.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]