‘Flabbergasted’ Pyeongchang 2018 head shoots down report of Olympics chief North Korea visit

Report had said South Korean organisers were pushing for North to compete in Winter Games with IOC president Thomas Bach to make Pyongyang trip

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 December, 2017, 6:00pm

The head of the Pyeongchang Winter Games shot down an “irresponsible” report that Olympics chief Thomas Bach is hoping to visit North Korea to discuss its participation in the competition.

“I was flabbergasted by the report which is absolutely groundless,” said Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Olympics Organising Committee (POCOG), after arriving back in South Korea following this week’s IOC executive board meeting in Switzerland.

“I suspect someone might be talking about his own wishful thinking. This is quite irresponsible. In reality, North Korea is under international sanctions and such a visit is hard to be realised.”

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency earlier cited unnamed government sources in a report which said Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, wanted to visit North Korea.

“The visit may be made by the end of this year,” Yonhap quoted one of the officials as saying.

Pyeongchang organisers are pushing for the North to compete as they hope to portray the event as a symbol of peace on the flashpoint peninsula.

The North missed the October 30 deadline to confirm its participation, although its pairs figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik had qualified.

Yonhap said the IOC is in talks with Pyongyang over a visit, which may be made by another senior IOC official instead of Bach.

A spokeswoman for the unification ministry, which handles inter-Korea affairs, said she was not aware of any plans for a visit.

Pyeongchang organisers have been struggling to shore up interest in the Games, which have been hit by concerns over the North’s military threat and the ban of the Russian team over a doping scandal.

Tension has been high on the divided peninsula as the isolated North staged a series of nuclear and missile tests that sparked global alarm, and traded threats of war with the US.

Several nations have questioned whether it is safe to send their athletes to the Games, which will be held in February at a mountain resort just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the heavily fortified border.

The Games also received a blow this week when the IOC’s executive board barred Russia, which topped the medals table at the 2014 Sochi Games, over its “systematic” doping programme.

There are fears the removal of the winter sports powerhouse will take some of the shine off the Pyeongchang Olympics, which will also be missing stars from North America’s National Hockey League (NHL), which opted to snub the Games.