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Chief organizer of PyeongChang 2018 still optimistic about N. Korean participation

The chief organizer of the PyeongChang Winter Games said Friday that he believes North Korea will participate in both the Olympics and the Paralympics south of the border next year despite its continued provocations.

North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test Sunday, further escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. With the international community moving to toughen sanctions on North Korea, Lee Hee-beom, who leads the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), said he still believes North Korea will send its athletes to South Korea's first Winter Games next year. 

People of Gangwon Province promote the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Games (Yonhap)
People of Gangwon Province promote the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Games (Yonhap)

"Sports are sports, and we should not confuse sports with politics," Lee said during a press conference in Seoul for the Paralympics torch relay event. "North Korea will participate. There are some signs (of North Korea's participation)."

Lee said South Korea, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the POCOG will continue their efforts to bring North Korea to the upcoming Winter Games.

"In the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, situations surrounding the Korean Peninsula weren't that good, but we hosted the events well," he said. "The IOC's stance on North Korean participation is the same as the South Korean government and the organizing committee's stance."

Lee said North Korea's Paralympic participation is also likely even though the communist state has yet to compete at the Winter Games for disabled athletes.

"I can't reveal it right now, but there is a small signal (about North Korea's participation)," he said.

Lee, meanwhile, said the organizers will fix snow problems raised during the Paralympic test events in this March.

"The Paraympics will start in March after the Olympics, and during mid-March, the temperature goes above zero even in cold places like Daegwallyeong," he said. "During the test event period, we saw snow melt at some venues, but we're ready to fix that problem." (Yonhap)