N Korea athletes to be kept isolated

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 June, 2009, 12:00am

North Korea's 200-strong delegation want to remain in isolation when they arrive for the East Asian Games in Hong Kong this December.

Organisers yesterday revealed the North Koreans - apparently worried about security - had requested all its athletes and officials be housed under one roof during the December 5-13 Games.

'They have asked to live separately from the other eight countries participating in the East Asian Games,' said Pang Chung, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, yesterday.

'I believe this request is due to security concerns. It was difficult for us to say no and we have granted them their wish,' Pang added.

But one Hong Kong official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the real reason behind the North Korean's request was to prevent their athletes from defecting.

'They want to stay together so they can keep an eye on their own people and prevent them from defecting to South Korea,' said the high-ranking official.

The entire North Korean team will now be housed at the Tso Kung Tam outdoor recreation centre at the foot of Tai Mo Shan.

The hermetic kingdom of North Korea had also used separate quarters to house their athletes when Macau hosted the games four years ago, giving weight to the contrary viewpoint that the North Koreans real concern was not so much over security, but rather to keep a close watch on their athletes and prevent them from seeking asylum.

Before the handover, Hong Kong had been used as a half-way house by North Korean citizens seeking to defect from the Stalinist state to South Korea.

The Tso Kung Tam facility is run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and is a few minutes away from Tsuen Wan town centre and can normally accommodate up to 240 campers with 10 persons sharing one room.

'We don't have the final tally of athletes from North Korea as yet as the deadline for national Olympic committees to submit their squads is September. But we estimate there will be around 200 athletes and officials from North Korea,' said a spokesperson for the East Asian Games Company Ltd.

All the other eight countries and territories taking part in Hong Kong's first multi-sports event will be housed in hotels and other venues close to sporting facilities.

'The rest of the delegations will stay on a sport-by-sport basis - meaning all the swimmers will live close to Kowloon Park, or the badminton players will be near Queen Elizabeth Stadium,' Pang said.

It is believed there will be nearly 20 hotels and other facilities used for the nine-day Games which will have 23 sports from athletics to wushu.

'Unlike at other major Games, the East Asian Games normally does not have an athletes' village. Macau also did not have an athletes' village and put up all the participants in hotels,' Pang said.