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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’s Olympic ban lifted

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Russia’s ban from the Olympic Movement was lifted on Wednesday despite two failed doping tests by its athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee appears to be an attempt to draw a line under the state-concocted doping scandal that tarnished the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

The IOC allowed more than 160 athletes it determined were clean to compete in Sochi as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” in PyeongChang with a prohibition on the national anthem or flag in venues.

Russia’s hopes of marching under its flag at Sunday’s Closing Ceremony were stymied by the two positive tests for banned substances, including a curler who had to forfeit his bronze medal.

But the IOC said Wednesday that all remaining test results were negative, clearing the path for Russia’s return to the Olympic fold.

“Therefore, as stated in the executive board decision of 25th February, the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee is automatically lifted with immediate effect,” the IOC said in a statement.

Russian athletes won two gold medals in PyeongChang, in figure skating and ice hockey, along with six silver medals and nine bronze.

“I would like to thank our athletes who were able to perform well even despite the provocations,” Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov said, according to TASS. “I thank the fans who did not cross the line and what could result in sanctions. Today’s IOC’s decision is very important for us. The ROC is an absolutely full-fledged member of the Olympic family.”

Russia also complied with its financial sanctions last week by paying $15 million to pay for the IOC’s two investigations into the scheme and toward future anti-doping work.

Vitaly Smirnov, the head of an anti-doping commission set up by Russian President Vladimir Putin, did acknowledge on Wednesday that “we have a long way to go to get rid of the mistakes, which we made in the past.”

But Russia continues to deny there was state involvement in the plot, which included urine samples in supposedly tamper-proof bottles at the 2014 Olympics being swapped out for clean samples through a “mouse hole” in the wall at a laboratory in Sochi.

The IOC decision to reinstate Russia has no bearing on the International Paralympic Committee’s earlier ruling to maintain the country’s ban.

The only Russians at the March 8-18 PyeongChang Games will be known as “Neutral Paralympic Athletes,” mirroring the IOC’s compromise.

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