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Olympic Games

Why is North Korea not participating in Tokyo 2020?

The secretive Asian nation announced that it would not be participating back in April, but the reasons behind the decision are difficult to decipher.

Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-Un
KCNAvia Reuters

North Korea has a reputation of being one of the most closed countries on the planet but the announcement that they would not be at Tokyo 2020 was still a surprise for many. It is the first Olympics the country has missed since 1988. Despite their small size, the nation has performed well in previous games, winning 57 medals including 16 golds in ten outings.

What reason was given?

The nation said that the protection of its athletes health was of the utmost importance. Back in April they made the announcement despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) saying they were yet to receive a request for the official withdrawal of the team.

The North Korean team was not present at the Opening ceremony yesterday and will not be participating in the games.

Despite this official reason, every other nation in attendance is under similar threat from the pandemic. This could point to other reasons why North Korea are not present at the games.

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The covid-19 situation in North Korea

North Korea has imposed tough measures in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Due to the secretive nature of the state, it has been difficult for organisations to assess the prevalence of the virus in on of the world's most closed economies. One of the most reliable database for covid-19 is John Hopkins University and they do not log North Korea in said database. The nation has not allowed any foreigners into the country for more than a year and that includes hard border with China, its greatest economic trading partner. This has prevented trade between the two countries and devastated the North Korean economy. A famine, on the scale of that experienced in the 1990s, is not expected, food shortages are said to be acute.

The strangling of trade with China has led to severe food shortages, so much so that Kim Jong-Un publicly declared the nation was facing its "worst ever situation." Despite this, North Korea has refused assistance from its neighbour South Korea declaring they needed no external help. The reduction in public speeches of Kim Jong-Un could be further evidence that the nation is not as safe as it claims to be.

It is extremely unlikely that there is no covid-19 in North Korea as it was months between the first case of covid-19 in China  and the end of travel between the two nations. Despite much public talk of successfully combating the virus from North Korean news agencies there is little doubt that the nation has not been affected. North Korea does not publicly announce its covid-19 numbers like most other countries, instead insisting that the nation is well protected from the virus.

Are their any other countries that won't be represented in Tokyo?

The west-African nation of Guinea had announced that they too would pull out of the games but have since reversed the decision.

Russia, due to doping violations, are not allowed to compete under the Russian flag and will instead be represented by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). They are not allowed to play the national anthem nor display the Russian flag throughout the games.

Flag bearers Sofya Velikaya and Maxim Mikhaylov of Team ROC lead their team during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020.
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Flag bearers Sofya Velikaya and Maxim Mikhaylov of Team ROC lead their team during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020.Matthias HangstGetty Images

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