Seoul is hoping to “change the fate of the Korean peninsula” with the launch of a bid to jointly host the 2032 Olympic Games with North Korea.
Representatives from both Koreas are expected to submit their plans to co-host the event at a meeting of the International Olympic City in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Friday. The South Korean Olympic Committee chose Seoul, a previous Olympic host, over the southern port city of Busan on Monday.
The decision to involve North Korea in the bid reflects warmer diplomatic ties between the neighbours, a year after North Korea sent athletes, supporters and officials to the Winter Olympics in the South Korean alpine town of Pyeongchang.
South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who favours engagement with the regime in Pyongyang, has also suggested the two countries bid to co-host the 2030 World Cup. The countries also plan to send combined teams to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
North Korea has yet to announce which city will join Seoul to bid for the 2032 Games, but experts say Pyongyang would be the obvious choice given its relatively advanced infrastructure.
Officials described a jointly-hosted Olympics as an unprecedented opportunity for sports diplomacy to bring stability to the Korean peninsula.
“Seoul will cooperate with the national government so that the 2032 summer Olympics become something more than a sports festival – an opportunity to change the fate of the Korean peninsula,” Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-soon, said in a statement.
The feasibility of an inter-Korean Olympics would depend on the fate of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes – the subject of talks in Hanoi at the end of the month between the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and Donald Trump.
Sanctions that would make cross-border cooperation on Olympic infrastructure practically impossible are expected to remain in place until Pyongyang demonstrates a willingness to dismantle its nuclear programme.
Nevertheless, serious discussion of a North Korean role in hosting the Games would have been unthinkable just two years ago, when the regime invited widespread condemnation after a volley of missile launches and its sixth nuclear test.
North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 summer Olympics, which were both held in Seoul. Bilateral ties deteriorated dramatically ahead of the Seoul Games, after the North bombed a South Korean airliner in November 1987, killing all 115 people on board.