- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - South Korean organizers of the 2018 Winter Olympics say there have been no talks with North Korea about forming a joint team for the games.

Leaders of the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, who are in Sochi to observe operations, marked the four-year countdown Sunday to the start of the first Winter Olympics in Korea.

Pyeongchang is located in northeast South Korea near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas. Its province was divided between the North and South Korean sides after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce.

South Korean organizers have said the Olympics will help promote peace on the divided peninsula. Some lawmakers have pushed for the formation of a combined Korean team of athletes from north and south.

But organizing committee chief Kim Jin-sun said “there have been no official discussions” with the North on a joint team since Pyeongchang was awarded the games in 2011.

“I believe it would contribute to peace, so we will explore some joint programs,” he said. “However, it will be contingent on an improvement in overall inter-Korean relations first. It’s a task we need to try.”

The two countries have never fielded a joint Olympic team, but their athletes marched together at the opening of the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics.

Meanwhile, Kim said organizers are engaged in final negotiations to sign their first two domestic sponsorship deals in the telecommunications and apparel categories.

“Local sponsorship sales are very important for a successful delivery of Pyeongchang 2018 and that is why we are making an all-out effort to make that happen,” he said.

Other deals will be negotiated in the airline, construction, banking and engineering categories. Pyeongchang has forecast $600 million in domestic sponsorship revenues.

While Sochi has built everything from scratch for Russia’s first Winter Olympics, spending a record $51 billion overall, Pyeongchang has many existing facilities.

Kim said the organizing committee’s operational budget remains at $2 billion. The budget for infrastructure projects, including a high-speed rail line between Seoul and Pyeongchang, is $7 billion.

Kim said organizers hope to sell 2 million tickets. Pyeongchang is reachable in one hour by train from Seoul, a city of 25 million people, and is easily accessible from China and Japan.

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