NATIONAL

Taekwondo event may spark ‘sports diplomacy’ with NK

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Jun 22, 2017 - 15:59
  • Updated : Jun 22, 2017 - 18:12

A North Korean-led taekwondo organization will participate in a world taekwondo championship in South Korea opening Saturday, amid the Moon Jae-in administration seeking “sports diplomacy” to repair its relationship with North Korea.

A 36-person delegation of the North Korean-led International Taekwondo Federation will arrive in Seoul by plane via Beijing on Friday and is scheduled to stay until July 1, the ITF and the South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said Thursday.

The delegation includes a total of 32 North Korean nationals, including current ITF chief Ri Young-sun and Chang Ung, the only North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee and a former ITF chief, and 12 North Korean athletes.

The 2017 World Taekwondo Federation World Taekwondo Championship is to run from Saturday to Friday in Muju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul in North Jeolla Province.

This undated photo provided by the World Taekwondo Federation shows a taekwondo demonstration team of the North Korea-lead International Taekwondo Federation. (Yonhap)

The first inter-Korean taekwondo exchange in nearly a decade, the visit comes as President Moon is openly expressing hopes to re-engage the North with diplomacy and dialogue, amid Pyongyang’s relentless pursuit of nuclear and missile programs.

“To resolve the issue we have to add dialogue to the current menu of sanctions and pressure,” Moon said in a recent interview with the Washington Post.

The Moon administration is also drawing up plans for a possible inter-Korean sports team for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics to paint the event as the “Peace Olympics.”

“There are plans to talk with the IOC to create an inter-Korean women’s hockey team,” Do Jong-hwan, South Korea’s new sports minister, said Tuesday.

“Hopefully, we‘ll be able to thaw lingering tensions as we try to bring North Korea on board.”

Do also added that Thomas Bach, president of the IOC and who is scheduled to attend the closing ceremony of the taekwondo championship, has plans to meet Moon on July 3, upon the president’s arrival from Seoul-Washington bilateral summit. The meeting is expected to be an opportunity for Moon to roll out his ideas for the Peace Olympics.

President Moon himself also expressed hopes for the two Koreas to collaborate in the bidding process to host the 2030 World Cup.

“If the neighboring countries in Northeast Asia, including North and South Korea, can host the World Cup together, it would help to create peace in North and South Korea as well as Northeast Asia,” Moon said earlier this month, according to the president’s spokesperson Park Su-hyun.

The upcoming taekwondo event is expected to be the largest world championship of the sport, indigenous to Korea, to date, with a record number of 971 athletes from 183 nations registered to compete.

South Korea’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung will attend the event with the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism overseeing the tournament, according to a Ministry of Unification official Thursday.

Demonstration teams from each federation will hold a joint performance choreographed for the tournament’s opening ceremony, marking the first time it is being showcased in South Korea.

The WTF, headquartered in Seoul, is a control tower for taekwondo worldwide with the IOC’s support. The ITF, although sanctioned by the North Korean regime, is headquartered in Vienna.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)