GWANGJU, July 10 (Yonhap) -- The top organizer of the upcoming swimming world championships in South Korea made a last-second pitch for North Korea's participation Wednesday.
Two days before the opening ceremony for the FINA World Aquatics Championships, Lee Yong-sup, Gwangju's mayor and head of the organizing committee, called on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to "make a historic decision" to allow his athletes to cross the border.
The biennial competition will run through July 28, with more than 2,600 athletes from 194 nations in action. The deadline for registration fell on July 3, with North Korea not responding to multiple invitations from Gwangju, located 330 kilometers south of Seoul.
"Using several channels, we've repeatedly asked North Korea to participate," Lee said at a press conference at Gwangju City Hall. "It's quite regrettable that we haven't heard anything from them."
Lee said North Korea's presence in the competition "will hopefully usher in a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula."
"Sports have always transcended ideologies and politics," the mayor added. "Since these world championships are a sporting event, they should be handled differently than other issues surrounding the region."
FINA, the international swimming governing body, has also tried to bring North Korea to the event in Gwangju. Officials are hoping to generate some much-needed buzz for a competition that, despite strong ticket sales numbers, has struggled to create interest outside the host city.
Lee said when Gwangju hosted the Summer Universiade in 2015, the organizers had left space in the athletes' village open for North Koreans who never came.
"I hope North Korea doesn't disappoint the 1.5 million residents of Gwangju," Lee said. "I'd also like to ask the unification ministry and the central government to make the final push for North Korea's participation. People in Gwangju and I will be waiting for the good news."
Inter-Korean exchanges in sports, as well as other areas, have remained stagnant for most of the year, but an unprecedented meeting of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30 fueled hopes that the Seoul-Pyongyang ties could turn for the better.
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