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South Korea opposition leader talks of united games

Current president unlikely to co-host 2018 Winter Olympics with North

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2011

Days after South Korea won the contest to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, the country's opposition leader says his party would "seriously consider" co-hosting the games with North Korea.

"We intend to seriously consider the possibility of both South and North Korea holding the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics," said Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the liberal Democratic Party (DP), during a meeting with party leaders in Pyeongchang.

"The Pyeongchang Olympics should be the Olympics of peace and reunification," Mr. Sohn added.

The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday chose Pyeonchang, a small town in South Korea's northeast region, to host the 2018 Winter Games — making South Korea the seventh nation to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Several senior DP officials had in recent days floated the idea of co-hosting the games with the secretive, totalitarian North. But Mr. Sohn's support carries special weight given that he is the front-runner to lead his party in next year's presidential elections.

If elected, Mr. Sohn would see his term end in February 2018, just before the end of the games.

Before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South and North Korean negotiators agreed in principle to divide the games, though the talks ultimately collapsed because of a disagreement about how many events the South would cede.

In its failed bids for the 2010 and 2014 games, South Korea's delegation presented a Pyeongchang Olympics explicitly as an opportunity to promote inter-Korean reconciliation, even obtaining a letter of support from the North's delegation.

But the co-hosting idea is unlikely to win the support of President Lee Myung-bak, whose conservative administration already suspended one joint North-South venture after a North Korean guard shot a South Korean tourist in 2008.

Relations between the two Koreas further deteriorated last year, when North Korea sank the South's Cheonan warship and later shelled its Yeongpyong Island, killing a total of 50 South Koreans in both attacks.

Seoul has demanded an apology from the North before resuming high-level bilateral talks. North Korea has refused, denying it sank the ship and saying it shelled the island in self-defense.

A lawmaker from the South's ruling Grand National Party said Sunday that the two major parties had agreed "to try to lay the groundwork" for an inter-Korean Olympic team. Though South and North Korean athletes marched together at the start the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, an actual joint team would be a first.

According to a poll released Monday by Gallup Korea, South Koreans support the idea of a joint team, 57.5 percent to 30.5 percent. But 73.3 percent said they oppose the idea of co-hosting the games with the North.

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