North Korea

Does North Korea Participate in the Olympics?

North Korea athletes at 2018 Closing Ceremony for Olympic Games
Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

While there are many countries who regularly do not field a Winter Olympics delegation, there is one country whose absence is slightly more noticeable than others.

North Korea has sent multiple athletes to seven of the past 10 Winter Olympic Games before this year, with 10 athletes representing the country at the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018. They have not won a medal since 1992, when they earned a bronze in short track speed skating at the Albertville Olympics.

The only other sport they have won a medal in is speed skating, in 1964. In addition to speed skating, athletes from North Korea have participated in ice hockey, figure skating and skiing.

Their participation in the PyeongChang Games games spurred some hope internationally that it could mean an easing of tensions between North and South Korea. Athletes from the rival countries marched together in the opening ceremony and fielded a single team in women’s ice hockey.

But since those Olympics, North Korea has not participated in both the Tokyo Olympics or the current Beijing Olympics. In January, the country said it would skip the games because of the COVID-19 pandemic and “hostile forces’ moves."

The country's state media said its Olympic Committee and Sport Ministry sent a letter to their Chinese counterparts to formally notify its last major ally and economic pipeline that it would not be able to attend the Olympics, but did not elaborate on what the hostile forces it was referring to.

However, the statement was largely redundant, since the country had already been banned from the Games by the International Olympic Committee. In September, the IOC suspended North Korea through 2022 for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Olympics, citing the pandemic. IOC President Thomas Bach said at the time that individual athletes from North Korea who qualify to compete in Beijing could still be accepted, but none came to participate in the games.

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said that the "hostile forces" that North Korea referenced likely refer to the IOC, or the U.S., France and Britain, which the country believes is behind the IOC suspension.

“There is no reason for Kim Jong Un to take part in the Beijing Olympics and South Korea’s push for a political declaration to end the Korean War on the occasion of the Olympics has fizzed,” Cheong said.

The North Korean letter also accused the United States and its allies of trying to hamper the successful hosting of the Games.

“The U.S. and its vassal forces are getting more undisguised in their moves against China aimed at preventing the successful opening of the Olympics,” the letter said. “(North Korea) resolutely rejects those moves, branding them as an insult to the spirit of the international Olympic Charter and as a base act of attempting to disgrace the international image of China.”

The letter likely refers to a diplomatic boycott of the Games, led by the United States, to protest China's human rights records. Under the boycott, athletes are competing in the Games but no official delegations were sent to Beijing. China has called the U.S. action an “outright political provocation.”

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