N. Korean taekwondo demonstration team invited to world championships in S. Korea

SEOUL-- The world's taekwondo governing body has extended an invitation to a North Korean demonstration team to this year's world championships to be held south of the border, its officials said Thursday.

The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), headed by South Korean Choue Chung-won, sent the invitation on Thursday to the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), with North Korean Ri Yong-son at the helm, according to a WTF official. The move is expected to provide a breakthrough for an exchange program that had stalled amid tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula.

The 2017 WTF World Taekwondo Championships will go on from June 24-30 in Muju, North Jeolla Province, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul.

The WTF, headquartered in Seoul, is the official world governing organization of taekwondo as sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The ITF, based in Vienna, is recognized by the North Korean government, though there are other organizations also named ITF in Spain and South Korea.

According to the WTF official, Choue met with Ri and Chang Ung, an honorary president of the ITF and an IOC member, in Lausanne, Switzerland, last Wednesday, to discuss inter-Korean exchanges of taekwondo demonstration teams.

In August 2014, Choue and Chang, then the ITF president, signed a landmark agreement that covered such exchanges. The deal will also allow North Korean athletes not registered with the WTF to still compete at WTF events under that organization's set of rules.

The following May, a 22-member ITF demonstration team performed at the opening ceremony of the 2015 world championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia. It later had a joint performance with a team from the WTF.

The ITF squad included 13 North Koreans and it became the first ITF demonstration team to appear at a WTF competition of any kind.

The ITF has never visited South Korea. After the 2015 world championships, the WTF sought to invite the ITF team to Seoul in October that year, before abandoning the plan due to rising tensions.

The WTF first invited the ITF to this year's world championships in March but never received a response. In its latest invitation, the WTF proposed a joint performance, similar to the one from 2015.

If the ITF's visit does materialize, the WTF may then seek to pay a reciprocal visit north of the border when the ITF holds its own world championships in Pyongyang in September.

Virtually all inter-Korean exchanges have been put on hold, but athletes from either side have recently made cross-border trips for competitions. The South Korean women's football team went to Pyongyang for the Asian Football Confederation Women's Asian Cup qualifying matches last month. Around the same time, the North Korean women's hockey team came to Gangneung, Gangwon Province, for the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A.

New South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to adopt a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea, and that in turn could offer more impetus inter-Korean exchanges.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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