South Korea's chief organizer for the upcoming Winter Games asked the Paralympics body Monday to strongly support North Korea's participation in the multi-sport event for disabled athletes next year.
Lee Hee-beom, who leads the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), sought help from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to bring North Korean athletes to the Winter Paralympic Games south of the border.
"I think it's important that every nation, including North Korea, have an equal chance of participating in the Games," Lee said during the IPC Project Review meeting in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, 180 kilometers east of Seoul. "If North Korea can take part in the Paralympic Games with the IPC's help, I think the PyeongChang Paralympics could mark an important moment in the Paralympic Movement. I'm sure it will be an important legacy for future generations."
Lee Hee-beom, head of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG), speaks at an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Project Review meeting in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, 180 kilometers east of Seoul. (Yonhap)
Despite rising tension on the Korean Peninsula following Pyongyang's nuclear test and missile provocations, the South Korean government and POCOG have been hoping North Korea would compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year.
Lee said he knows people are worried about safety, but South Korea is ready to provide the highest level of security.
"It's true that there is some tension on the Korean Peninsula, but South Korea has successfully hosted international sports events like the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 FIFA World Cup before and wiped out such concerns," he said. "To guarantee high-level security, we will cooperate closely with government, law enforcement and firefighting authorities, as well as other safety-related agencies."
Lee added that a resolution to adopt the Olympic Truce for the upcoming Games is also being pursued.
"We expect the Olympic Truce to be adopted in November at the United Nations," he said. "This will serve as an important symbol for the desire maintain peace in the international community."
Andrew Parsons, who became the new leader of the IPC last month, said he agrees with Lee's plan and added that the Paralympic body will encourage many nations, including North Korea, to come to PyeongChang next year.
Parsons, who landed in South Korea on Sunday, said he also had a good first impression of PyeongChang, but the local organizers should continue to work hard to promote the Paralympics and build a strong legacy.
Parsons said the IPC will talk with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon on ways to support the PyeongChang Paralympics. He is scheduled to meet Moon on Tuesday.