SEOUL, May 19 (Korea Bizwire) – The top organizer of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea has offered to open the land route for North Korean athletes if they decide to compete south of the tense border.
In a meeting with journalists at the South Korean Embassy in London on Thursday (local time), Lee Hee-beom, head of the organizing committee for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, said South Korea will welcome North Korea with open arms.
Lee has repeatedly stated that all peace-loving nations have an obligation to participate in the Olympics.
“South Korea will welcome North Korea and when they decide to come, the South Korean government will allow them to come by road,” Lee was quoted by Reuters as saying. “And when they have supporting teams, the (South) Korean government will allow them to come by ship. All nations are very welcome, including North Korea and Russia (which is dealing with a doping scandal). We want it to be the peace games.”
Typically, North Korean athletes competing in the South have flown in via Beijing. The Korean Peninsula has remained divided since 1953, with the demilitarized zone (DMZ), a 4km-wide buffer zone, guarded on either side by troops.
According to an official with the organizing committee, President Moon Jae-in, before taking office, had spoken of possibly opening the land route for the North Korean Olympic delegation in his January meeting with Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon. PyeongChang is located in the eastern province.
Tension lingers in the area with a string of missile launches by North Korea, the threat of an imminent nuclear test, and virtually all inter-Korean exchanges have been put on hold.
Yet athletes from either side made cross-border trips for competitions last month. The South Korean women’s football team went to Pyongyang for the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup qualifying matches. Around the same time, the North Korean women’s hockey team came to Gangneung, Gangwon Province, for the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship Division II Group A.
During the hockey team’s visit, a North Korean sports official told Governor Choi that North Korea will try to send “as many athletes as possible” to PyeongChang.
Moon is expected to adopt a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea, though his hands appear to be tied by Pyongyang’s continued push with its nuclear and missile programs.