North Korea’s return to the Olympics: IOC president meets with Kim Jong-un to discuss future plans (and watch a little soccer)
Kim Jong-un wants North Korean athletes to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, IOC president Thomas Bach said
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang on Friday to discuss the country’s participation in future Olympic Games.
Bach said the two had a 30-minute formal meeting followed by 45 minutes of casual discussions while watching a soccer match on Friday afternoon at Pyongyang’s huge May Day Stadium.
He said he received a commitment from the North’s National Olympic Committee to participate in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 and the Beijing Winter Games in 2022, along with the respective Youth Olympic Games.
“This commitment has been fully supported by the supreme leader Kim Jong-un in a meeting we had this afternoon,” Bach said.
Bach arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday to discuss development of sports in North Korea and the preparation of its athletes to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympics.
He is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader returned this week from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That was Kim’s first known trip abroad since he assumed power after the death of his father in late 2011.
Kim is to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.
Bach’s trip to Pyongyang comes after the IOC played a big part in allowing North Korea to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics last month in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Both the North and South have hailed the Pyeongchang games as a significant step toward easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula that reached dangerously high levels last year as the North stepped up its missile tests and detonated its largest nuclear device to date.
Since the Olympics, the North has pushed forward with a flurry of diplomatic moves. Kim is to meet US President Donald Trump by May, though the exact date and location of that summit have not been announced.
The exact reasons behind Kim’s seeming change of tactics remain something of a mystery.
Hopes have been raised that the he may be willing to discuss his nuclear weapons programme and other measures to reduce the threat of war. That may possibly come in exchange for security guarantees and an easing of the international sanctions that have severely pinched the already struggling North Korean economy.
Raising the level of North Korean athletes has been high on Kim’s agenda since he became leader.
Of the 22 North Korean athletes who competed in Pyeongchang, only two won places on merit and the other 20 were granted special spots by the IOC.
Bach, who is German, competed in the 1976 Summer Olympics for West Germany when the Germanies were still divided and said that gave him a special feeling for the Koreas.
While in Pyeongchang, he said he was happy with the role the IOC played but added that sports alone could not heal all wounds.