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Koreas combine table tennis teams rather than play each other

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HALMSTAD, Sweden (AP) — Ping pong diplomacy is bringing North and South Korea together at the world team table tennis championships.

The women’s teams from the two countries, originally competing separately at the competition in Sweden, decided Thursday to combine their teams rather than play each other in the quarterfinals.

“When I informed the board of directors about this development, the unified team received a standing ovation from the delegates who showed their sign of support to this historic move,” ITTF president Thomas Weikert said.

The move follows intense recent cross-border diplomacy by state leaders at home. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed last week to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

The combined Korean team at the table tennis tournament will next play Japan in the semifinals on Friday.

“(It’s) an important statement to promote peace between our countries through table tennis,” the South Korean team said.

MORE: IOC president meets with Kim Jong Un

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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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