North Korea Olympics
In this Feb 9, 2018, file photo, Kim Yo Jong, right, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, and Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea, center, observe with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, second from left, and first lady Kim Jung-sook the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Photo: AP
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Why is North Korea skipping the Tokyo Olympics?


North Korea, citing the coronavirus, has become the world's first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics.

It's true that the North is extremely sensitive about COVID-19, knowing that a widespread outbreak in a country with an already battered health system could be disaster.

But North Korea also has previously used big sporting events to set up diplomacy with the United States meant to win it much-needed sanctions relief in return for nuclear disarmament pledges. Some see pulling out of the Olympics as the North sending Washington a message.

Here's a look at the North Korean decision and what it might mean.


A state-run website said Tuesday that North Korea’s Olympic Committee has decided not to take part in the Tokyo Games slated to begin in July “to protect players from the world public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”

North Korea has previously boycotted Olympics and other international sports events for political reasons or failed to appear when none of its athletes or teams qualified. But this is the first time North Korea has pulled out of a major international sports event citing an infectious disease, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Pyongyang has developed a reputation for withdrawing from talks with Seoul and Washington before returning at the last minute to boost its bargaining power. But given that the country has been on high alert over COVID-19, experts say there is little chance that it will reverse its Olympics decision.

North Korea has shown "a coronavirus-related neurosis since it declared an emergency anti-virus system in January last year,” said Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University.

Park said it’s highly unlikely that North Korea will secure enough vaccines for its 26 million people or report major progress in its anti-virus fight by July.

North Korean officials know how disastrous a major virus outbreak would be in a nation with public healthcare infrastructure that has been in shambles for decades. North Korea has so far taken some of the world’s most draconian anti-virus steps, including a 15-month-long closure of its international borders and the departure of foreign nationals.

North Korea still officially claims to be coronavirus free, an assertion many foreign experts dispute.

North Korea's decision to skip the Olympics shows that it “thinks contact with foreigners is the most dangerous thing now,” said Seo Yu-Seok at the Seoul-based Institute of North Korean Studies.


The North Korean announcement, three months before the Games begin, could signal that Pyongyang is rejecting a repeated push by Seoul to use the Olympics to create a mood for dialogue. It could also show a determination to boost pressure on the new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

North Korea is sending the message that it wants to deal directly with the U.S. now rather than using the Olympics as a venue to reach out to Washington for talks, said Kwak Gil Sup, head of One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korea affairs.

Now-deadlocked nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington began in 2018 after a reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Games in the South earlier that year.

During those Olympics, athletes from the Koreas marched together under a single unification flag during the opening ceremony and formed the Koreas’ first-ever joint team in women’s ice hockey. Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, became the first member of the North's ruling family to visit South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

There's been little progress in nuclear talks the past two years. North Korea recently fired two ballistic missiles into the sea in the first such weapons tests in a year. Kim Yo Jong has warned Washington not to “cause a stink” and called South Korea’s president “a parrot raised by America.”

Experts say North Korea eventually wants talks with the Biden administration to win sanctions relief and achieve better ties because its economy has been devastated by the pandemic, U.S.-led sanctions and natural disasters last year.

Analyst Seo said North Korea likely wasn't sure about the benefits of attending the Tokyo Games because Biden has made it clear that he won’t engage in made-for-TV summits with Kim Jong Un like his predecessor Donald Trump did.

“They knew that they would return home empty-handed from Tokyo,” Seo said.

But North Korea’s domestic difficulties may push it to pursue talks with the United States soon.

Seo said North Korea could perform big weapons tests, such as an intercontinental ballistic missile launch, in coming months if it’s not satisfied with the Biden government’s North Korea policy review expected to be completed soon.

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Why is North Korea skipping the Tokyo Olympics

Because they apparently care more about the health of the Japanese population than some here.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

I'd guess they wouldn't want to go home with zero medals, after getting schooled 27-0 by Tiddleywinksistan in badminton.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Simplified answer? Here’s a reason why they’re not ‘playing ball’:

“Politics - Japan to extend ban on all trade with N Korea by 2 years” - Apr. 6 1pm Headline

3 ( +5 / -2 )

But does anyone really care if they skipped out? ... (crickets)

3 ( +7 / -4 )

If New Zealand had made such decison at first, people support them but since it's NK which truly cares about health of not just their people but also the rest of the people like you but same people are bashing them. Not everything is negative about them. Such negative sheeps this generation and even going lower.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

The North Korean Diving team is world class - almost like they have all Chinese coaches, which I think they do. I wouldn't be surprised to learn they train in China.

There is little reason for the US or Western-aligned countries to change the sanctions in any way. It won't help the NK people and will just provide more money for dictator Lil' Kim and his general followers.

South Korea has complete blinders when it comes to NK. All they see are grandparents, cousins, and other relatives. The softness from them and other countries is preventing the sanctions from having the leaders overthrown - though I don't know how to get Asian peoples to overthrow their govt. Has that other worked anywhere? I'm ignorant.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

But does anyone really care if they skipped out? ... (crickets)

At a normal Olympics, every Japanese tv channel will fill a 10 minute slot talking about what is effectively the North Korean cheerleading team, the group of female members of the NK military who sit in the stands. The tv always talks about how beautiful they are.

Since no foreign fans are allowed, presumably they wouldn't have come even if NK were appearing.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I suspect NK will use the Olympics as an opportunity to get attention/concessions by firing off missiles leading up to the games. Citing health concerns somehow doesn't quite fit.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

NK. Had a very fine women's soccer team - which was supposedly struck by lightning (the entire team) and ingested deer antler powder, which according to NK, mimics PEDs. As such, were banned from competition after testing positive for PEDs and banned in 2011 & 2015. Apparently, when NK athletes underperform in world tournaments, as punishment they are sent to the coal mines. Not attending the Olympics may be a good thing for their future health. It is unfortunate, they seemed to have a talent for soccer and other sports.

However, Covid-19 and relations with Japan & the USA factor in the decision.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

As we get closer to the Olympics, and the world sees Japan is still fiddling around with vaccinations, looking for volunteers and medical staff necessary to host such an event, and not having any real plan to ensure the spread of Covid can be minimized, hopefully other countries will begin to pull out.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Basically, the author is speculating. North Korea doesn't participate in enough international events of any type for them to be a pretext for either foreign policy moves, or bellicose threats which appear random but are always aimed at removing or relieving sanctions. According to other sources, the harvest last year failed miserably and hunger is on the rise, perhaps resulting in this ploy...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Maybe they're sick of third world mentality back home and don't want to experience more at the 2021 Olympics

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Does anyone really think they're skipping it over concerns for their athletes? that's funny.. Didn't they torture they're soccer team after they lost a match??

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Didn't they torture they're soccer team after they lost a match??

Did they? What's your info independent media organization with no agenda? Sounds about as credible to me as the mass media reports about Kim,s uncle or ex girlfriend being machined gunned only to show up in public later on ...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Didn't they torture they're soccer team after they lost a match??

I think you're thinking of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's son.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

North Korea, citing the coronavirus, has become the world's first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics.

and they won't be the last (or only).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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