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Politician under fire after sending complaint letter to IOC over North’s participation

A South Korean conservative politician and member of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee came under fire after she sent a letter to the International Olympics Committee demanding a reconsideration of its approval of parts of inter-Korean agreements related to the North’s participation at the Winter Games.

On Friday, Rep. Na Kyung-won, a four-term lawmaker from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and a member of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics, sent an email to the IOC and International Paralympic Committee, claiming that North Korea’s participation in the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games has led to a violation of the Olympic spirit. 

Rep. Na Kyung-won of main opposition Liberty Korea Party (Yonhap)
Rep. Na Kyung-won of main opposition Liberty Korea Party (Yonhap)

“I sent a letter to explain that expanding the number of entries only for the South-North joint women’s ice hockey team violates the Olympic spirit of fair competition,” she said in a press release. “It is hard to accept that some of the South Korean players will lose their qualification to enter in the games.”

The North is also trying to take advantage of the Olympics as a way to propagandize its communist regime, which contravenes the political neutrality stated in the Olympic Charter, Na said in explaining her email.

The lawmaker also criticized the liberal Moon Jae-in administration, saying that it is promoting the PyeongChang Olympics as the “Pyongyang Olympics,” in a Facebook post on Saturday.

Although her statement -- which is in line with the conservative Liberty Korea Party’s position -- gained traction among her supporters, she faced harsh criticisms that her act was inappropriate as a committee member of the Olympics committee here.

More than 108,300 citizens had signed petitions on the Cheong Wa Dae website as of 5 p.m. Monday, calling for her removal from the PyeongChang Organizing Committee.

If an online petition posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website garners more than 200,000 signatories within 30 days, the presidential office should issue a formal response.

Opposition lawmakers also criticized Rep. Na. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s floor leader Rep. Woo Won-sik condemned the Liberty Korea Party as to disrupt the government’s peace drive inviting North Korea.

“It is pathetic how Rep. Na and her Liberty Korea Party are stuck in anachronism and maintain that the Olympics will become an event for the North’s propaganda. Some 100 countries in the world are expected to take part, and it will be a world festival,” the party’s spokesperson said in a separate statement.

In defense of her letter, the lawmaker on Monday said she supports the North’s participation, but reiterated her opposition to details of the inter-Korean agreement.

“In 2013, I was the chairwoman of the PyeongChang Special Olympics World Winter Games Organizing Committee and I called for North Korea to participate in the Olympics,” she said in her Facebook post, calling for the ruling party’s floor leader Woo to apologize for misleading the public that she is opposing the participation of the North as a whole.

“I do welcome the participation of the North Korean athletes, but forming a joint single team, holding joint ski training in Masikryung Ski Resort in the North and holding a ceremony at Kumgangsan are events designed as shows,” she said the statement.

“All of these agreed plans go against the international sanctions on North Korea. It also does not make any sense when we look at the past relationship with the North.”

She said she has not yet received an answer from the IOC. 

By Jo He-rim (