A leading North Korean sports official believes it is too late to consider South Korean President Moon Jae-in's proposal to form a unified team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, saying that political tension must be resolved first.
"It took us 22 rounds of talks to set up that joint (table tennis) team for the 1991 games. It took us five months," North Korean International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Chang Ung, told the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper.
At the opening of the World Taekwondo Championships in Muju on Saturday, Moon said he wanted the Koreas to compete as one team next year and highlighted the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships as an example of a previous merger.
Chang, who is leading the North Korea delegation at the Taekwondo event in a city two hours south of Seoul, also ruled out the possibility of using venues in the North to co-host the Feb. 9-25 Winter Games and dismissed the notion that a unified team would help improve ties by saying: "The Olympics should not be used for a political aim."
"As an expert of the Olympics, it is a little late to be talking about co-hosting. It's easy to talk about co-hosting, but it is never easy to solve practical problems for that. It's the same for forming a joint team for ice hockey," Chang added.
Moon, who was a senior official in the liberal former South Korean government of Roh Moo-hyun in the 2000s, took office on May 10, winning an election on a more moderate approach to North Korea and a promise to engage Pyongyang in dialogue. He has also said that North Korea must be pressured in order them to abandon their nuclear program.
South Korea's sports officials said they remained receptive to the idea of competing together, however.
"We are still open to possibilities about forming a joint team," said Chun Byong-keuk, director general of Sports Corporation of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.
South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan said last week that he would hold talks with the IOC about forming a joint female ice hockey team for the 2018 Olympics.
South Korea and its northern neighbor, officially called as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, where separated as states in the fallout of World War II, when the occupying U.S. forces pressured the Soviet Union to cede control below the 38th parallel. To prevent the peninsula from falling to leftist forces, the South was put under U.S. control and consolidated as a separate republic.
A brutal conflict to reunify the peninsula ensued and U.S.-backed forces have remained officially at war with the DPRK since an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.