N. Korean taekwondo demonstration team to visit S. Korea for world championships: report
SEOUL-- A North Korean taekwondo demonstration team will visit South Korea next month to attend this year's world championships, a report said Saturday.
George Vitale, spokesman for the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), told Voice of America (VOA) that the ITF has accepted an invitation extended by the Seoul-based World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), and will send its demonstration team for the June 24-30 WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, North Jeolla Province, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul.
The WTF 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.
The WTF extended its invitation on May 11.
Vitale also told VOA that the ITF's 33-person delegation will be led by the organization's North Korean president, Ri Yong-son. In addition to North Korean practitioners, the team will also feature athletes from the United States, Britain, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Greenland, according to Vitale.
The WTF's South Korean President Choue Chung-won met with Ri and Chang Ung, an honorary president of the ITF and the lone North Korean IOC member, in Lausanne, Switzerland, on May 3 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 at the time 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.
Now that the ITF has agreed to visit South Korea, 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.
Vitale said the two organizations will discuss that possibility when they meet in Muju next month.
Virtually all inter-Korean exchanges have been put on hold under lingering tensions on the peninsula, 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