North Korea will not attend this year’s Tokyo Olympics because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang’s sports ministry said, blowing the final whistle on Seoul’s hopes of using the Games to restart talks with its nuclear-armed neighbour.
The isolated North’s participation in the last Winter Games, hosted by the South in Pyeongchang, was a key catalyst in the diplomatic rapprochement of 2018.
Leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attended as his envoy in a blaze of publicity, and the South’s President Moon Jae-in seized the opportunity to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington that led to a series of high-profile meetings between Kim and then US president Donald Trump.
But Pyongyang’s announcement puts an end to Seoul’s hopes of using the postponed Tokyo Games, due to begin in July, to kick off a reset in the now deadlocked talks process.
North Korea’s Olympic Committee “decided not to participate in the 32nd Olympic Games in order to protect players from the world public health crisis caused by Covid-19”, said the Sports in the DPR Korea website, run by the sports ministry in Pyongyang.
But analysts said other factors may have been at play.
The announcement — dated Monday — reported a meeting of the national Olympic committee on March 25.
The North’s official KCNA news agency had previously carried a dispatch on the committee meeting, without mentioning the Olympic decision.