The chief of a Seoul-based inter-Korean sports exchange promotion group said Wednesday he believes Pyongyang will send athletes and a cheering squad to the Winter Olympics south of the border next month.
Kim Kyung-sung, who leads the South-North Korea Inter-Korean Sports Association, made the claim based on his attendance at meeting with North Korean officials in China last month.
"I believe there is a big possibility that the North will come to South Korea with its cheerleading group," Kim said to Yonhap News Agency in a phone interview. "Unlike the Summer Olympics, North Korea should have a small number of athletes at the Winter Games. But to show that it's sending a large delegation, North Korean cheerleaders would probably accompany them."
This file photo taken on Sept. 27, 2014, shows North Koreans supporting their athletes in the men`s wrestling competition at the Asian Games in Incheon. (Yonhap)
Kim last month attended a closed-door meeting in Kunming, China, where Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon talked with Mun Ung, a vice-minister-level official who heads North Korea's April 25 Athletic Committee, on the sidelines of the 2017 Ari Sports Cup youth football tournament.
The under-15 competition, which was held between Dec. 19 and 22, had two teams each from North Korea, China and South Korea's Gangwon Province.
According to Kim, Choi asked Mun about North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, that will be staged between Feb. 9 and 25.
On New Year's Day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he would consider sending a delegation to the first Winter Olympics held in South Korea and was open to talks with Seoul about the matter. Kim claimed the North Korean leader's message with respect to the PyeongChang Games is an answer to the South's proposal at the meeting in China.
"Mun then said he'll deliver the South's message to his superiors," he said. "I believe high-ranking North Korean authorities were reported about our dialogue at the meeting, and as a result, Kim Jong-un made such remarks on the PyeongChang Olympics in his New Year's message."
At the meeting, Kim said Choi offered cruise ship transportation to North Korea if it decides to come to PyeongChang. If the North travels to the South via the ship, he expected that Pyongyang's cheering squad can give a performance on the deck.
"Choi offered such proposal because both security and accommodation issues can be handled," he said. "If the North agrees to the proposal, it could have the delegation launching ceremony at the Masikryong Ski Resort and aboard the cruise ship from the South at a port in Wonsan. This can be meaningful because we can have a tourism route that connects Gangwon Province, Mount Kumgang, Wonsan and Russia's Vladivostok if inter-Korean relations improve in the future."
The North Korean figure skating duo of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik qualified for a spot in PyeongChang, but the country's national skating body missed an Oct. 30 deadline to submit their entry for the Olympics. Kim said Choi also proposed to Mun making the two Koreas one team to compete for the figure skating team trophy. In the team event, medals are awarded based on the scores of teams' scores in men's and women's singles, pairs and ice dance.
"Choi proposed North Korea's Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik join South Korean figure skaters in the team event," he said. "But I think these issues will be handled in detail when government officials from the two Koreas meet."
Kim said he expects that Choi Hwi, North Korea's Sports Guidance Committee chairman, could lead his country's delegation to the Olympics rather than an even higher-ranking political figure.
"The North said it can't process other exchanges besides sports in the first half of this year," he said. "So I think there is a low possibility that a high-ranking politician is appointed as chief of the North's Olympic delegation. National Sports Guidance Committee chief isn't a low-ranked post. Choe Ryong-hae (the de facto No. 2 man in the North) was in that position until last month."
Kim said South Korea and North Korea will continue their exchanges in football. Gangwon FC, a professional football club based in Gangwon Province, is scheduled to play against the North's April 25 football team in Kunming, China, on Jan. 15, while Gangwon State University women's football team will also face the women's side of the April 25, according to Kim.
"We've also agreed to stage the Ari Sport Cup in Pyongyang in May and in Gangwon Province in October," he said. "To discuss the schedule of the Ari Sports Cup, I'll meet North Korean officials later this month with Gangwon Governor Choi. I believe there's going to be talks about the PyeongChang Olympics as well." (Yonhap)