WASHINGTON – North Korea’s figure-skating duo of Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik are expected to receive an extended opportunity to register for next month’s winter Olympics — and if they participate they will have between 400 to 500 countrymen and women joining them.
That expanded delegation stunned host South Korea and raised eyebrows once again in Washington about the true motives of North Korean President Kim Jong-un — and will likely mean South Korea or other nations will have to foot the bill.
As of Thursday, it was unclear who will pay for additional training, transport and accommodations for Pyongyang’s delegation.
The invite to North Korea to participate in the Olympics has already required some diplomatic and internal Olympic Committee (IOC) gymnastics to make the idea reality. To do so meant granting special consideration to the North Korean athletes by the Olympic committee, adjusting the timing of the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, and perhaps turning a blind eye to possible violations of U.N. sanctions to accommodate the participants.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that the U.S. government welcomed the talks on the Olympics and was consulting with Seoul to ensure that any agreement does not violate U.N. sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, the AP reported.
The enormous delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will be divided into groups of high-ranking officials, members of the national Olympic committee, athletes, cheerleaders, observers, reporters and performance artists.
In previous years, South Korea often paid for the North’s delegations to attend competitions in its country. However, in the lead-up to the 2014 Asian Games, South Korea said it would follow international norms that stipulate attending countries should pay their own way. North Korean officials then reportedly stormed out of a planning meeting in a snit.
Last year, South Korea indicated the IOC would shoulder some of the costs for North Korea for the February games. The IOC also helped provide training equipment to North Korean athletes last year.
Experts are divided on whether such provisions technically breach U.N. sanctions against North Korea. The hope is that having a North Korean delegation will make the games safer.
Only the figure skating duo, who placed 15th in last year’s World Championship, qualified to apply for the games. Athletes in other sports, including skiing, may be granted wild-card entries, but their number is unlikely to exceed 10, according to experts.
North Korea has earned only two medals in past Winter Games, which it has attended sporadically, starting in 1964. They are a silver medal in speed skating and a bronze medal in short-track speed skating in 1992. The last Olympic Games in which the country participated was the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
A squad of 288 cheerleaders accompanied athletes to the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, while 303 and 124 were present at the 2003 Summer Universiade in Daegu and the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon, respectively.