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Tokyo poised to say yes to Pyongyang for Olympics

June 26,2019
Japan is set to grant permission to North Korean athletes to take part in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, according to its local press Monday.

Citing a Japanese official, the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun reported that North Korea’s athletes will be granted access to participate in the World Judo Championship that will take place in Tokyo this coming August, a competition that will serve as a trial event in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

“Based on this ruling, the Japanese government will likely allow North Korean athletes to enter [Japan] at the kickoff for the Tokyo Olympics,” the newspaper quoted the official as saying.

Japan currently bans any person with North Korean citizenship from entering its territory, as part of its sanctions on Pyongyang. It has chosen to make an exception for North Korean athletes willing to take part in the World Judo Championship to comply with the Olympic Charter, the official said.

The Olympic Charter, the rules and guidelines for the organization of the Olympic Games, forbids barring any athlete from competing based on their nationality.

The Sankei Shimbun said Pyongyang may field a team to compete at the World Judo Championship given that judo was one of four sports, along with women’s basketball, women’s hockey and rowing, that it agreed in February to field a joint team with South Korea for the 2020 summer Games.

The report added that Japanese intelligence could monitor the activities of North Korean athletes in case they take part in any activities outside the sports competition.

On Sunday, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that North Korea’s Vice Sports Minister Won Kil-u and two other officials will visit Tokyo from August 19 to 23 to take part in a conference between representatives of each country for the Olympics. The envoys will tour sports facilities and marathon courses in Tokyo, the report said, while adding they could also make contact with Japanese government officials on the side to discuss Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s offer to told a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

A decision to allow the North to take part in the Summer Olympiad may reflect Tokyo’s desire to see inter-Korean joint teams compete at the games, which is likely to attract significant media attention. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in March approved the two Koreas’ proposal to form unified teams and march together in Tokyo, with IOC President Thomas Bach saying the global committee would support North Korean athletes in qualifying and preparing for the sports competition.

While inter-Korean ties have been frozen since the collapse of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, Pyongyang has sent signals that it may still be willing to follow through on its Olympic promise with the South, perhaps as a means to revive relations as it had with its participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In an interview with a Chinese news outlet on May 28, North Korean Vice Sports Minister Won Kil-u said the North was willing to “hold hands” with the South to field a joint team, calling it “the wish of the entire nation and ... the principle of the Olympics.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]