North Korea not to take part in Tokyo Olympics

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A torchbearer poses with the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Flame in front of the Olympic Rings outside Olympic House during the the final Torch Relay. The Winter Youth Olympic Games, Lausanne, Switzerland, Wednesday 08 January 2020. Photo: OIS/Joel Marklund. Handout image supplied by OIS/IOC

North Korea has announced it will not take part in the Tokyo Olympics this year, saying the decision is to protect its athletes from Covid-19.

The decision puts an end to South Korea’s hopes of using the Games to engage with the North amid stalled cross-border talks.

In 2018, both sides entered a joint team at the Winter Olympics which led to a series of historic summits.

Pyongyang says it has no cases of the virus but experts say this is unlikely.

This will be the first time North Korea has missed a Summer Olympics since 1988, when it boycotted the Seoul Games during the Cold War.

The decision was made at an Olympic committee meeting on 25 March, according to a report by the state-run site Sports in the DPRK.

North Korea has taken stringent measures against the virus since it broke out last year.

It shut its borders in late January and later quarantined hundreds of foreigners in its capital.

There were hopes from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in that the Games could be a catalyst for progress between both Koreas.

That had been the case in 2018, when North Korea sent 22 athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with government officials, journalists and a 230-member cheering group.

Among the contingent was North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong,  a move which helped it initiate diplomacy with South Korea and the US.