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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Koreas confirm plans to jointly bid for 2032 Olympics

Long-time rivals plan for more sporting contacts, including fielding joint handball team at world championships

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wave during a parade in Pyongyang on September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps via Reuters
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wave during a parade in Pyongyang on September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps via Reuters

North and South Korea on Friday agreed to officially inform the International Olympic Committee of their intent to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics as they continued with reconciliation efforts.

Korean sports officials meeting at the North Korean border town of Kaesong also agreed to send a combined team to the world handball championships in January, according to a statement. The rivals vowed to "actively participate" in international sports events hosted by each other and organise more friendly competitions between them.

"The plan is to organise friendly competitions marking meaningful anniversaries between the South and North, for example the first anniversaries of the [April] inter-Korean summit and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics," said South Korean Vice Sports Minister Roh Tae-kang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed at a meeting in September to pursue a joint bid for the 2032 Olympics and send combined teams to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games and other major sports events.

It would be extremely difficult to host the Olympics in North Korea under heavy US-led sanctions, which are unlikely to be removed until the North takes concrete steps to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Doubts remain whether Mr Kim will give up his arsenal, which he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. There is also declining support among South Koreans for hosting large sports events because of the high costs.

For many South Koreans, it is remarkable that the Koreas are even talking about sharing the Olympics. North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both held in Seoul, and relations worsened dramatically on the eve of the Seoul Olympics with the North's bombing of a South Korean passenger jet that killed all 115 aboard in December 1987.

The Koreas have often used sports to facilitate diplomacy. North Korea sent hundreds of people to the Winter Olympics in South Korea's Pyeongchang in February, including Mr Kim's sister who conveyed his desire for an inter-Korean summit after tensions created by North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

South Korea's enthusiasm for engagement with its rival has created unease in Washington, which has called for allies to maintain pressure until Pyongyang denuclearises.

South Korea last month walked back on a proposal to lift some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea following US President Donald Trump's blunt retort that Seoul could "do nothing" without Washington's approval.

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