North Korea said Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The North’s National Olympic Committee decided at a meeting on March 25 that its delegation would skip the Olympics “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” according to Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website.
It is the first Summer Olympics that Nord has missed since 1988, when they were held in Seoul, the South Korean capital.
North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the south had hoped that the Olympics – held from July 23 to August 8 – could possibly provide a place where senior delegates from both Koreas could discuss issues beyond sports.
The 2018 Winter Olympics, held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, offered similar hopes of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Yo-jong, the only sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, captured global attention as she attended the opening ceremony and became the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into South Korea.
Sir. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. The inter-Korean dialogue soon followed, leading to three summits between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Sir. Kim also met three times with President Donald J. Trump.
But since Mr Kim’s diplomacy with Mr Trump collapsed in 2019, North Korea has avoided official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened the Nordic diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties in concern about its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year in a challenge for President Biden.
Since North Korea’s first Olympic appearance in 1972, it has participated in all summer games except the Los Angeles event in 1984, when it joined a Soviet-led boycott, and in 1988, when South Korea hosted. North Korean athletes have won 16 gold medals, mainly in weightlifting, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing and judo, consistently citing the ruling Kim family as inspiration.
The Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for 2020, but were delayed by a year due to the pandemic. The organizing committee has struggled to develop security protocols to protect both participants and local residents. But as a number of health, economic and political challenges have arisen, large majorities in Japan are now saying in polls that games should not be held this summer.
Although organizers have excluded international spectators, epidemiologists warn that the Olympics could still become a super-spreading event. Thousands of athletes and other participants will come down to Tokyo from more than 200 countries, while much of the Japanese public remains unvaccinated.