North Korea will not participate in this year’s Olympics in Tokyo because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang’s sports ministry said, and last whistle blew over Seoul’s hopes of using the Games to restart talks with its nuclear-armed neighbor.
The isolated North’s participation in the last Winter Games, hosted by the South in Pyeongchang, was a key catalyst in the 2018 diplomatic rapprochement.
Leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong participated as his envoy in a fiery commercial, and Southern President Moon Jae-in seized the opportunity to mediate talks between Pyongyang and Washington, leading 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 delayed Tokyo games, due to begin in July, to start a reset in the now deadlocked talks.
The North Korean Olympic Committee “decided not to participate in the 32nd Olympic Games to protect players from the world public health crisis caused by Covid-19”, said the Sports in the DPR Korea website run by the Ministry of Sports in Pyongyang.
But analysts said other factors may have been at stake.
The announcement – dated Monday – reported on a meeting of the National Olympic Committee on 25 March.
Nord’s official KCNA news agency had previously sent a broadcast at the committee meeting without mentioning the Olympic decision.