IOC President Bach saving talks on joint Korean Olympic team for Moon

By Alex Park
  • Published : Jun 30, 2017 - 09:53
  • Updated : Jun 30, 2017 - 10:49

MUJU -- International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Thursday he'd withhold further talks on a joint Korean delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics south of the border, saying he'd discuss the matter later with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Bach arrived in South Korea earlier in the day to attend Friday's closing ceremony of the ongoing World Taekwondo Championships, hosted by the World Taekwondo Federation in Muju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul.

He traveled to Muju to attend a dinner reception hosted by the WTF's president, Choue Chung-won.

Soon after landing at Incheon International Airport, Bach had said he was in support of Moon's recent invitation to North Korea to take part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the first Winter Games to take place in South Korea. The IOC chief said the proposal was "in the spirit of the Olympism."

Pressed further on the IOC's stance on the prospect, Bach said he was only in Muju in celebration of taekwondo and its signature competition.

"I came here to congratulate the WTF for a great championship," Bach said. "The other questions you're raising, they will be discussed when President Moon is back from his state visit to the United States."

Thomas Bach (left), president of the International Olympic Committee, attends a dinner reception hosted by the World Taekwondo Federation President Choue Chung-won (not pictured) in Muju, North Jeolla Province, on June 29, 2017. Next to Bach is Chang Ung, a North Korean IOC member. (Yonhap)

At the airport, Bach said the IOC had already invited North Korea to compete in PyeongChang back in February, and that the IOC was supporting North Korean athletes in order to qualify for the Games.

Bach appeared to have indicated that the IOC may grant North Korean athletes wild card slots if no one from the country qualifies. When asked in Muju if wild cards were indeed a possibility, Bach simply said, "We're supporting athletes from the country to be able to qualify for the (PyeongChang) Games. All the rest, I'll discuss with President Moon."

Bach's trip comes with anticipation running rampant for a potential unified Korean team at PyeongChang next February or a joint march at the opening ceremony.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the Korean War ended in 1953 on an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Inter-Korean sports exchanges have been essentially non-existent in recent years with conservative presidents in office in Seoul. It all changed quickly this month with Seoul's new sports minister, Do Jong-hwan, proposing an all-Korean women's hockey team and sharing Olympic skiing races with a North Korean resort, before Moon extended his invitation last weekend.

The Koreas have fielded joint teams at two international competitions -- the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships and the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship -- but never at an Olympics.

The Koreas have marched in together at opening ceremonies for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 2002 Busan Asian Games, 2003 Aomori Asian Winter Games, 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, 2006 Doha Asian Games and 2007 Changchun Asian Winter Games.

Chang Ung, the lone North Korean IOC member also in Muju for the WTF competition, has voiced his skepticism that the Koreas would be able to assemble a joint team, since time isn't on the countries' side and there is still much political uncertainty.

Asked if he spoke to Bach about the difficulties the Koreas are facing, Chang, who also attended the dinner, "He came here with a clear idea" of those challenges, without specifying further.

Moon, the first liberal South Korean president in nearly a decade, has offered to take a dual track approach on North Korea, seeking Pyongyang's denuclearization while pushing for inter-Korean dialogue. North Korea has conducted five missile tests since Moon's inauguration on May 10. (Yonhap)