S. Korean lawmaker says time running out to form joint Korean squad for PyeongChang 2018

MUJU, South Korea-- A South Korean lawmaker said Sunday time was running out for the two Koreas to form a join squad at next year's Winter Olympics south of the border, urging political leaders from both sides to make a quick decision.

An Min-seok of the ruling Democratic Party attended a luncheon meeting here in Muju, some 240 kilometers south of Seoul, hosted by Choue Chung-won, the South Korean head of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF). The WTF World Taekwondo Championships kicked off Saturday.

Also at the table were Chang Ung, the lone North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Yu Zaiqing, an IOC vice president, and Lee Hee-beom, president of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics organizing committee.

Chang traveled to Muju with a delegation from the North Korea-led International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), whose demonstration team had a performance during the WTF event's opening ceremony.

Also at Saturday's opening ceremony, South Korean President Moon Jae-in extended his invitation to North Korea to take part in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. Only days earlier, Seoul's sports minister, Do Jong-hwan, proposed assembling a joint women's hockey team and holding skiing events at North Korea's Masikryong resort at the 2018 Olympics.

After Sunday's meeting, An told reporters that Moon's proposal was discussed over lunch and that it's a delicate issue that requires discussions with many different parties.

"We have to have a counterpart on matters related to inter-Korean sports exchanges," An said. "It'd be great if we got our wish, but we have to get North Korea, the IOC and international federations of winter sports involved. This requires multilateral talks. Our president gave us a big framework, and we have to try to make something out of that."

An, who has represented South Korea in previous inter-Korean sports talks, said time isn't on South Korea's side.

"The Olympics won't wait for us," An said. "But the nature of sports talks is such that, once the leaderships of both Koreas make their political decision, things can really pick up the pace and it could lead to great results."

An said since there is still much uncertainty surrounding the peninsula, the two Koreas would be wise to approach their sports exchange talks carefully.

"It could be summer or autumn, but if we do hold a new round of sports talks, we could discuss PyeongChang Winter Olympics within that framework," An said. "I think we're now at a point where we're trying to improve the quality of our discussions."

According to An, Chang is taking a wait-and-see approach and wanted to see if North Korean athletes could actually qualify for the PyeongChang Games first. North Korea didn't participate in the previous Winter Games in Sochi three years ago.

For PyeongChang, North Korea has its one last shot in pairs figure skating. Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik just missed out on qualification at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, and will take one more crack at an Olympic berth at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in September. Four last spots will be up for grabs

South Korea and North Korea fielded joint teams at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships and the 1991 FIFA World Youth Championship. They also marched in together for the opening ceremonies at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 2002 Busan Asian Games, 2003 Aomori Asian Winter Games, 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, 2006 Doha Asian Games and 2007 Changchun Asian Winter Games.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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