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Thomas Bach, Kim Jong Un talk North Korea Olympic participation

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Friday.

Bach told an Associated Press Television crew in an exclusive interview that two had a 30-minute formal meeting followed by 45 minutes of casual discussions while watching a football match Friday afternoon at Pyongyang’s huge May Day Stadium.

He said Kim Jong Un supported a plan to have North Korean athletes compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Bach arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday to discuss development of sports in North Korea and the preparation of its athletes to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympics.

He is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader returned earlier this week from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That was Kim’s first known trip abroad since he assumed power after the death of his father in late 2011.

Kim is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.

Bach’s trip to Pyongyang comes after the IOC played a big part in allowing North Korea to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics.

He said he received a commitment from the North’s National Olympic Committee to participate in the 2020 and 2022 Olympics, along with the respective youth Olympic Games.

“This commitment has been fully supported by the supreme leader Kim Jong Un in a meeting we had this afternoon,” Bach said.

The North and South hailed the PyeongChang Games as a significant step toward easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Raising the level of North Korean athletes has been high on Kim’s agenda since he became leader. Of the 22 North Korean athletes who competed in PyeongChang, only two won places on merit and the other 20 were granted special spots by the IOC.

Bach, who is German, competed in the Olympics for West Germany when the Germanys were still divided and says that gives him a special feeling for the Koreas.

While in PyeongChang, he said he was happy with the role the IOC played but added that sports alone cannot heal all wounds.

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IOC president Thomas Bach visits North Korea

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach arrived in North Korea on Thursday after playing a key role in allowing it to participate in PyeongChang.

Bach was met at Pyongyang’s international airport by North Korean Sports Minister Kim Il Guk and Chang Ung, the country’s Olympic committee member.

Bach did not take questions at the airport.

It was not known if Bach would meet during his three-day visit with leader Kim Jong Un, who has just returned from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping, his first known trip abroad as leader. Kim also is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27.

The IOC said on its website that discussions during Bach’s visit would focus on development of sports in North Korea and the preparation of its athletes to qualify and participate in upcoming Olympics.

Of the 22 North Koreans who competed in PyeongChang, two earned places on merit. The other 20 were granted spots by the IOC.

During the Olympics, Bach said he was happy with the role the IOC played in getting North Korea and South Korea together at the Games. But he added that sports alone cannot heal all wounds.

“You know sport cannot create peace,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We cannot lead their political negotiations. We have sent this message — this dialogue — that negotiations can lead to a positive result. Now it’s up to the political side to use this momentum.”

Bach, who is German, competed in the Olympics for West Germany when the Germanys were still divided, and said that gives him a special feeling for the Koreas.

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Russia banned from Olympics; athletes can compete as neutrals

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Russia’s Olympic Committee was banned from the PyeongChang Olympics due to the nation’s doping scandal, but individual Russian athletes will be invited to compete at the Winter Games as neutrals under the Olympic Flag.

The full IOC announcement is here.

Russian athletes deemed “clean” by a panel will be invited to compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR).”

No Russian flag, anthem or uniforms (except for, possibly, the Closing Ceremony), though the word “Russia” is expected to be on the uniforms.

If an OAR athlete or team wins gold, the Olympic Anthem will play just as it did for the Unified Team at the 1992 Albertville Games.

The IOC said athletes will be invited via “strict conditions” detailed here:

  • Athletes must not have had a doping violation.
  • Athletes must have undergone pre-Games targeted drug tests recommended by a testing task force.
  • Athletes must have undergone any other testing requirements specified to ensure a level playing field.

“This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a press release, adding that he does not anticipate a boycott by Russian athletes. “The IOC [executive board], after following due process, has issued proportional sanctions for this systemic manipulation while protecting the clean athletes. This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by [the World Anti-Doping Agency].”

The decision clears a path to PyeongChang for Russian stars like figure skater Yevgenia Medvedeva and short track speed skater Viktor Ahn.

Medvedeva spoke at the IOC meeting in Switzerland on Tuesday. Read what she said here.

“Invited athletes will participate, be it in individual or team competitions, under the name ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR),'” the IOC release read.

Bach repeated that statement when asked how Tuesday’s decision affects Russian hockey and curling teams and relays.

The International Ice Hockey Federation was not ready to comment on the situation immediately after the announcement, according to hockey media.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to comment on the decision Wednesday, according to Russian media.

The next steps for Russian athletes and officials are expected to be discussed at a meeting next Tuesday, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko was banned from the Olympics for life. The Russia Olympic Committee was fined $15 million.

Russia Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov, whose IOC membership was suspended, apologized before Tuesday’s announcement, Bach said. Bach declined to detail for what Zhukov apologized, but Zhukov’s speech was later published.

“As the exclusive U.S. media rights holder through 2032, we believe in clean competition and strong actions to ensure it,” NBC Sports said in a statement. “Therefore, we fully support today’s IOC decision, which levels significant sanctions against the guilty, but also provides a path for clean athletes to compete in PyeongChang.”

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Russia’s doping scandal emanates from the Sochi Olympics. It was first reported in May 2016 that Russian Olympians on performance-enhancing substances were protected by a urine-swapping scheme. Implicated Russian athletes have denied being part of a doping plan.

Late-night swaps of dirty samples for clean urine stored months earlier went via a “mouse hole” into a secured room at the Sochi testing laboratory.

Secret service agents had found a way to break into tamper-proof sample bottles and return them with clean urine, claimed whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of a Moscow drug-testing lab.

After investigations, the International Olympic Committee last month began stripping Russia of Sochi Olympic medals (11 of its Sochi-leading 33 medals so far) and banning athletes from the Olympics for life (25 so far). A full list is here.

The last nation to be banned from a Winter Olympics was South Africa, which was barred from 1964 through 1992 due to its apartheid policies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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