North Korea will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics, citing coronavirus concerns, according to a state-run website report on a North Korea Olympic Committee meeting held March 25.
North Korea made the decision “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis situation related to the coronavirus,” the report, published Monday, stated, according to a Yonhap News Agency translation.
An International Olympic Committee spokesperson said the IOC has not received an official application from North Korea “to be released from their obligation to take part in the Olympic Games according to the Olympic Charter.”
North Korea “was, despite several requests of the IOC, not in a position to hold a telephone conference during which also the COVID-19 situation in North Korea should have been discussed,” the spokesperson wrote in an email Tuesday.
North Korea participated in the last seven Summer Olympics after boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games and the 1988 Seoul Games.
It took part in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, marching together with South Korea in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.
The two nations combined to field one women’s ice hockey team. North Korea also entered athletes in Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.
North Korea won multiple medals at every Summer Olympics in which it has sent athletes. It is strongest in weightlifting, earning nine medals at the most recent world championships in 2019 (second only to China).
A North Korean absence from Tokyo would boost the medal chances of the top U.S. weightlifter, Kate Nye, who won the non-Olympic 71kg division at 2019 Worlds. Nye is expected to compete at 76kg in Tokyo. The reigning world champion at that weight is North Korean Rim Jong-Sim, a 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist.
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