N Korea drops out of Tokyo Olympics

Sports | ASSOCIATED PRESS 7 Apr 2021

North Korea became the first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics because of coronavirus fears, underscoring the challenges facing Japan as it struggles to stage a global sporting event amid a raging pandemic.

North Korea's Sports Ministry said its national Olympic Committee during a meeting on March 25 decided not to participate in the Games to protect athletes from the "world public health crisis caused by Covid-19.''

The pandemic has already pushed back the Games, which were originally scheduled for 2020, and organizers have scrambled to put in place preventive measures, such as banning spectators from overseas, to ensure the safety of athletes and residents.

However, there's still concern that the Olympics could worsen the spread of the virus, and Japan's rising caseload and slow vaccine rollout have raised questions about whether the Games should be held at all.

Japan's Olympic Committee said yesterday that North Korea has not yet notified it that it wouldn't participate in the Games.

Katsunobu Kato, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said the government hopes many countries will join the Olympics as he promised ample anti-virus measures.

South Korea's Unification Ministry expressed regret over the North's decision, saying it had hoped that the Tokyo Olympics would provide an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations, which have declined amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

North Korea sent 22 athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in the South, along with government officials, performance artists, journalists and a 230-member all-female cheering group.

At the Pyeongchang Games, the North and South Korean athletes marched under a blue map symbolizing a unified Korean Peninsula. The Koreas also fielded their first combined Olympic team in women's ice hockey.

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