North Korea has confirmed that its athletes will not be taking part in the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics later this year.
In its statement, the DPRK Olympic Committee said it had reached a decision ‘not to participate in the 32nd Olympic Games in order to protect players from the world public health crisis caused by COVID-19′ following a meeting of its members on 25 March.
The spike in coronavirus cases in Japan has led to the implementation of stricter anti-COVID measures in Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi.
The international aquatics federation (FINA) has already cancelled all diving, artistic swimming and marathon swimming Olympic qualifiers scheduled for this month ahead of Tokyo 2020 due to concerns that organisers would ‘not properly ensure’ the safety of its athletes with the lacking protocols in place.
The BBC published a letter penned by FINA to swimming federations which criticised the Japanese government, stating that authorities ‘did not take all the necessary measures to ensure successful and fair’ competition.
Becoming the first major country to withdraw from the delayed Games due to the pandemic, Pyongyang’s decision also represents the first time that North Korea has skipped a Summer Games since 1988 when it boycotted the Seoul Olympics amid the Cold War.
However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has reaffirmed that it has not yet ‘received an official application’ from the country – which closed its borders in January to prevent the spread of the virus – to withdraw from the upcoming Games.
North Korea’s withdrawal also dashes hopes of peace talks with neighbouring South Korea, with the two sovereign states aiming to use the Games as a platform to engage over cross-border talks and discuss a joint bid for the 2032 edition of the Olympics.
“We had hoped that the Olympics could serve as an opportunity to make progress in inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation and to bring peace on the Korean Peninsula and it is a disappointment that this has become unlikely due to the COVID-19 situation,” A South Korean ‘unification ministry’ official commenteda
Meanwhile, the US State Department has denied that it is consulting with its political allies about a boycott on the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in response to Chinese human rights policies and abuses.
Earlier this week, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said a joint boycott was something they ‘certainly wish to discuss’, according to AFP.
He explained: “A coordinated approach will not only be in our interest but also the interest of our allies and partners. So this is one of the issues that is on the agenda both now and going forward.
“We have consistently said when it comes to our concerns with the government in Beijing…that what the United States does is meaningful, what the United States does will have impact, but everything we do that brings along our allies and partners will have all the more influence with Beijing. So that is why the Department of State, as part of our thinking on the Beijing Olympics, is engaging with partners, with allies, to coordinate closely on decisions and approaches to the government in Beijing.”
However, the executive department has now distanced itself from a potential boycott after releasing a new statement.
“Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed,” a State Department official said in response. “We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners.”