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Koreas poised for more history as they agree to push to co-host 2032 Olympics

All Headlines 14:28 September 19, 2018

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- In the midst of an already monumental year for their sports cooperation, South Korea and North Korea on Wednesday agreed to work together for another potentially historic project -- co-hosting the 2032 Summer Olympics.

Following their summit talks in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced in their joint accord that the two sides will cooperate with one another to bring the 35th Summer Games to the Korean Peninsula.

The leaders said cooperation in sports will be part of their joint efforts to promote reconciliation and harmony on the divided peninsula.

In this file photo from Feb. 9, 2018, athletes from South Korea and North Korea march behind the Korean Unification Flag at the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang, 180 kilometers east of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Seoul's Sports Minister Do Jong-whan first broached the idea last week with South Korean correspondents in Tokyo, on the sidelines of talks with his counterparts from Japan and China.

And Wednesday's announcement represents another positive development in the annals of inter-Korean sports exchange.

At the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea's PyeongChang in February, the two sides combined their women's hockey teams -- the first joint Korean squad in any sport in Olympic history -- and marched behind the Korean Unification Flag at the opening ceremony. Building on that momentum, they also fielded unified teams at international table tennis competitions and then competed as one in three sports -- rowing, canoeing and women's basketball -- at the Asian Games in Indonesia last month.

Also in their joint declaration, Moon and Kim said the two Koreas will work on forming more unified teams at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and other international competitions. But hosting the 2032 Summer Games together will be on an entirely new level in terms of its magnitude and place in Olympic history.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which helped ensure North Korean athletes' participation at PyeongChang 2018 by granting them special entries, hailed the first Winter Olympics in South Korea for creating a legacy of "Peace Olympics." IOC President Thomas Bach repeatedly said nothing represented the Olympic ideals of peace and harmony better than the presence of North Korean athletes in South Korea.

And having the two Koreas co-host an Olympics will also correspond to the Olympic values that the IOC actively promotes.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands after signing a joint declaration following their summit talks in Pyongyang on Sept. 19, 2018. (Yonhap)

Also aiding the Koreas' chances of co-hosting the Olympics -- if they stay on a cooperative path over the next several years -- is the current international sporting climate. Countries have become increasingly reluctant to host the Olympics. Because of rising costs and lack of domestic support, candidates have pulled out of recent races.

The IOC usually awards hosting rights to cities seven years prior to the Olympics. But the Summer Games have become such a hard sell that in 2017, the IOC decided to award the 2024 and 2028 competitions simultaneously. Paris and Los Angeles are the next two hosts.

Jakarta announced its bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics near the end of the Asian Games just weeks ago. Germany, Australia and India have also expressed interest, but no formal bidding process is yet under way.

North Korea has never hosted an Olympics. Prior to PyeongChang 2018, South Korea held the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

It's not yet clear if the IOC will return to awarding Olympic hosting rights seven years prior to the competition, in which case the Koreas' joint bid will be put to an IOC vote in 2025.

In the meantime, they will try to keep competing under one flag at multiple international events.

They have been most actively engaged in table tennis. At the world championships in Sweden in May, South Korea and North Korea were scheduled to face each other in the quarterfinals, but decided to combine their teams at the last minute. They advanced to the semifinals as "Korea" and won a bronze medal after a loss to Japan.

In this file photo from Aug. 26, 2018, members of the unified Korean dragon boat racing team watch the Korean Unification Flag being raised after winning gold medal in the women's 500-meter competition at the 18th Asian Games at Jakabaring Rowing & Canoeing Regatta Course in Palembang, Indonesia. (Yonhap)

Two months later in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, the Koreas fielded four unified teams in the men's and women's doubles and the mixed doubles at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour Platinum Korea Open. The mixed doubles duo of Jang Woo-jin (South) and Cha Hyo-sim (North) captured gold.

They hope to have multiple joint doubles teams at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, in December. Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, will host the 2020 world championships in ping pong, and South Korean officials have already expressed hopes for unified teams then and at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

On Wednesday, while the two Korean leaders unveiled their joint declaration, Seoul's Korea Paralympic Committee announced plans to field unified Korean teams in table tennis and swimming at next month's Asian Para Games in Jakarta.

At this year's Asian Games, the Koreas combined for one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. They were hoping to field unified teams in more than three sports in Indonesia and may be able to do so with the IOC's blessing in Tokyo.


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