North Korea in bombshell withdrawal from Tokyo Olympics

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·Sports Reporter
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North Korea have reportedly decided to withdraw from the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Pictures: Getty Images
North Korea have reportedly decided to withdraw from the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Pictures: Getty Images

North Korea have opted not to compete at the upcoming 2021 Olympics, per reports from a sports website run by the nation's sports ministry.

The Sports in DPR Korea website said Tuesday the decision was made during a national Olympic Committee meeting on March 25 where members prioritised protecting athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”

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The decision is believed to have been made during a March 25 meeting of North Korea’s Olympic committee, according to the Joson Sports website.

“The committee decided not to join the 32nd Olympics Games to protect athletes from the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus,” the website said.

North Korea's state media previously reported the committee met but not the outcome of the meeting.

South Korea’s Olympic Committee said it hasn’t been informed of North Korea’s decision, and the government could not immediately confirm the website's operator.

North Korea sent 22 athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with government officials, performance artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group.

That diplomacy has stalemated since and North Korea’s decision to sit out the Tokyo Olympics is a setback for hopes to revive it.

The move to opt out of the Games also represents a blow to broader global diplomacy efforts, with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga previously saying he expected to invite President Joe Biden to the Olympics and was willing to meet with Kim Jong Un or his powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, if either attended the Games. 

Suga, however, did not say if he will invite either of them.

North Korea news a blow for Olympic diplomacy

It is the first Summer Olympics that North Korea has skipped since it boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Meanwhile, Games organisers are expected to cancel a water polo test event scheduled for this weekend, public broadcaster NHK reported, as the pandemic continues to disrupt preparations less than four months before the July 23 start date.

The water polo test event will be cancelled because overseas officials are unable to travel to Japan amid strict COVID-19 counter measures.

A spokeswoman for the Tokyo 2020 organising committee declined to comment.

A cancellation would be another blow for organisers just days after they restarted test events, which had been on hold due to the pandemic, for the first time in more than a year.

The Olympic torch relay began in March, with the Tokyo Games set to begin on July 23. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)
The Olympic torch relay began in March, with the Tokyo Games set to begin on July 23. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan is struggling with a nascent fourth wave in the pandemic driven by variants of the coronavirus, and the resurgence is affecting other test events as well as the torch relay.

Organisers were initially planning 18 test events in April and May, starting with wheelchair rugby April 3-4.

But the International Swimming Federation (FINA) intends to cancel its Olympic qualifiers in Tokyo for diving scheduled for April 18-23, senior Tokyo 2020 official Yasuo Mori said on Sunday, meaning two of the first three test events would not be held if the water polo event is scrapped.

Adding to organisers' headaches, the city of Osaka has formally requested that their leg of the torch relay be cancelled as the western Japanese metropolis grapples with a spike in coronavirus infections.

With AAP/Associated Press

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