North Korea set for rare sports foray in South

Tue Sep 9, 2014 4:16am EDT
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By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) - A delegation of over 250 North Korean athletes, coaches and officials will take a rare flight south of the inter-Korean border to participate in the 17th Asian Games this month, hoping to raise the reclusive country's profile on the international sporting stage.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is at the center of a state propaganda drive to turn the isolated country into a "sports superpower" and has rewarded medal-winning athletes with luxury apartments, entertained flamboyant NBA hall of famer Dennis Rodman, and even tried his hand at coaching.

"Supreme leader Kim Jong Un personally guided matches for examining the men's and women's soccer of the National Sports Team which will take part in the 17th Asian Games," a North Korean Olympic Committee official said in a state media article last month.

"Our players' participation in the 17th Asian Games offers an important occasion in improving the relations between the north and the south and removing distrust," the official said.

Tensions between North and South Korea are high and the two states are still technically in a state of war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Talks between Pyongyang and Seoul are rare and local media coverage about North Korea's participation in the Asian Games has largely centered around a decision by Pyongyang to send a group of female cheerleaders to accompany its athletes to the South.

A major issue of contention had been who will foot the bill for hosting the delegation from cash-strapped North Korea.

The South Korean government has said it will share some of the cost, but North Korea has since withdrawn its cheerleader offer, and accused Seoul of "abusing the Olympic idea for sinister political purposes."   Continued...