Seoul: South Korea on Sunday hailed the International Olympic Committee’s approval of the participation of 22 North Korean athletes in three sports and five disciplines at next month’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
Seoul stressed the importance of North Korean representation in the Games in laying the foundations of peace between the two countries and the IOC’s approval of the Koreas’ first joint Olympic team, according to a spokesperson of the presidential office.
“Forging a unified team is an essential step in the process of having North Korea take part in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” the spokesperson said, as cited by Yonhap news agency.
Seoul also announced on Sunday that Pyongyang has given the green light for part of the South Korean ski team to train at the North Korean Masikyrong resort before the Games, which will begin on February 9.
In addition to the training, which will take place this week from Tuesday to Thursday, the two Koreas will also hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang, located north of the border on the east coast.
North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics was approved on Saturday during a four-party meeting, held in Lausanne, Switzerland, between representatives from Pyongyang, Seoul, the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee and the IOC.
The 22 North Korean athletes will compete in five different disciplines including ice hockey, figure skating, short-track speedskating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing.
For the first time in Olympic history, the two Koreas will enter a joint team in the ice hockey event.
The North Korean music and arts officials arrived in South Korea on Sunday, the first of a series of visits to prepare for the North’s last-minute participation in the Games.
South Korean broadcaster YTN reported the first delegation had arrived in Seoul early Sunday under a heavy police presence, then boarded a train to Gangwon province, where the Olympics will be held from February 9-25.
The officials are scheduled to spend two days inspecting art centres in Seoul and Gangneung city, which will also host several of the Olympic events.
Pyongyang said on Sunday it also plans to send another team of sports officials to inspect Olympic venues and accommodations from January 25-27, South Korea’s unification ministry said.
Sunday’s seven-member North Korean delegation, led by musician Hyon Song-wol, had been scheduled to visit on Saturday to check venues for performances by a 140-strong art troupe at the Olympics, but cancelled just before the visit with no explanation.
Officials from both Korea’s used a cross-border hotline to reschedule the visit.
A unified Korean team has participated in a sporting event on just two previous occasions: the World Table Tennis Championships in Japan and the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Portugal, both in 1991.