North Korean cheerleaders wave Unified Korea flags at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. File photo/ AFP
Sporting ties triggered a rapid diplomatic thaw on and around the peninsula last year, but are stagnating with the wider process over the North’s nuclear arsenal deadlocked.
The two Koreas formed their first-ever unified Olympic team — a joint women’s ice hockey squad — for the 2018 Winter Games in the South, where they proved a media sensation despite losing all five of their matches by a combined scoreline of 28-2.
The two Koreas then formed several joint teams for the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia and in February agreed to send unified basketball, judo, field hockey and rowing squads to Tokyo.
But just weeks later a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump collapsed in disagreement over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.
That left North-South relations in limbo, with Pyongyang not responding to offers of talks or implementing previous agreements.
The International Olympic Committee has stipulated that, in team sports, any joint team Tokyo entries must have qualified as a single unit.
That means a joint women’s team needed to enter the IHF Women’s Hockey Series Finals in Ireland from June 8 to 16.
Thursday was the deadline for submitting squads and, with the North not responding, the South decided to enter alone.
“It will just be the South Korean team, not a unified team,” an official at the Korea Hockey Federation in Seoul told AFP.
South Korea’s sports minister Park Yang-woo held out hope of a change of heart by Pyongyang.
“We have repeatedly sent our request but there has been no response. We will wait until the very last minute,” he told reporters earlier this week.
“If there is progress in talks for joint teams later, we will resume discussions but we have to prioritise the opinions of the athletes,” he said.
Pyongyang and Seoul have announced plans for a joint bid to host the 2032 Summer Games, but officials in the South Korean capital say there has not been any discussion on the project with their northern counterparts.
North Korea has returned its staff to an inter-Korean liaison office, Seoul said on Monday, just days after unilaterally withdrawing from the joint facility.
Thursday’s missile tests were the first since Kim and US President Donald Trump agreed to resume nuclear talks during an impromptu meeting last month in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.
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