IOC helping North Korean athletes prepare for Olympics

Bach recalled that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him during a visit to Pyongyang in March that he was fully committed to sending athletes to the summer games in Tokyo in 2020 and the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.

The IOC has invited the national Olympic committees of North and South Korea, China and Japan for a meeting on June 22 at its headquarters in Lausanne “to discuss their further progress”, Thomas Bach said.   -  AFP

The International Olympic Committee is working on a special programme to help North Korean athletes take part in the next two Olympic Games in Japan and China, IOC President Thomas Bach said on Tuesday.

Bach recalled that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him during a visit to Pyongyang in March that he was fully committed to sending athletes to the summer games in Tokyo in 2020 and the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022.

Kim also wants to send athletes to the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in 2018 and in the Youth Winter Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020, Bach said.

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“We are now ... working on the special programme to allow North Korean athletes to prepare for the games and to qualify for the games. This is the first step,” Bach said at a news conference in Beijing.

The Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea marked a thaw in relations between the two Koreas as they marched together at the opening ceremony and fielded a joint women's hockey team.

The games triggered a fast-moving rapprochement paving the way for a meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April and a summit with US President Donald Trump, planned for June 12.

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The IOC already helped North Korea send a team to Sweden for the world table tennis championships in April and May. The North and South opted against playing each other, earning a round of applause as they decided instead to field a joint women's team for the semifinals.

The IOC has invited the national Olympic committees of North and South Korea, China and Japan for a meeting on June 22 at its headquarters in Lausanne “to discuss their further progress”, Bach said.

“We have also invited eight table tennis players — one male, one female from each country — for a demonstration of the unifying power of sport,” he said.

Bach said that he was “pretty sure” that a number of North Korean athletes will qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games. “With regard to 2022, it's too early to say how many athletes will qualify. This is why we are working on this with North Korean, already, from now on.”