North Korea said Thursday it would not send a cheering squad to the upcoming Incheon Asian Games, while reaffirming its plan to dispatch a 273-member delegation, including 150 athletes. The announcement by an official of the North’s National Olympic Committee appeared to reflect Pyongyang’s dissatisfaction with Seoul’s unwillingness to cover the cost of the cheering group’s stay here.
South Korea promised in writing earlier this week to provide administrative and other necessary support for North Korean athletes and officials who would participate in the 17th Asiad to be held in the port city west of Seoul from Sept. 19 to Oct. 4. But it did not touch on the North’s plan to send hundreds of cheerleaders.
North Korea may have expected Thursday’s announcement ― which was made by a sports official, not in the form of an official statement ― to put pressure on the South to foot the bill for the cheerleaders’ visit.
Seoul officials, who have indicated their willingness to show some flexibility on the cost of the North Korean delegation’s stay, may also consider easing their stance on the cheering squad. In any case, the North should be led to pay more attention to international standards and rely less on special treatment from the South.
The absence of the North Korean cheerleaders may disappoint some people here. But it should not be allowed to do harm to the festive atmosphere of the Incheon Asian Games, which will attract about 23,000 athletes, officials and journalists from 45 countries across the continent.
What is urgently needed now is to strengthen efforts to draw more public attention and support to the event. With less than three weeks to go before its opening, the Incheon Asian Games still seems of little interest to most South Korean citizens, who are fed up with news about prolonged partisan wrangling over a bill to deal with the April 16 ferry disaster. In this atmosphere, foreign residents here also appear to remain mostly unaware that the continental sports festival is coming.
Incheon is the third South Korean city to host the Asian Games ― after Seoul in 1986 and Busan in 2002. Still, organizing officials, with the help of about 18,500 volunteers, are tasked with making it as successful as ever to contribute to enhancing friendship and reconciliation across the continent, which has been plagued by religious, ethnic and territorial disputes.
In this context, the opening ceremony will properly feature programs designed to call on all Asians to come together, under the theme of “Dream of 4.5 Billion, One Asia.” It is considerate and proper to set up religious centers and prayer rooms for Christians, Muslims and Buddhists at the athletes’ village to reflect the participants’ varied backgrounds.
What is also important is to put final touches on setting up perfect conditions to enable athletes to perform to their fullest capabilities.
It is our hope that each and every participant in the Incheon Asiad will build friendships and leave with unforgettable memories.