North Korea is sending a huge delegation to the Winter Olympics - but getting them there will be tricky

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south korea olympicsPhoto by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesSouth Koreans perform on stage during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games torch relay on November 4, 2017 in Busan, South Korea.

  • North Korea announced on Tuesday that it would be sending an Olympic delegation to the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics.
  • The logistics of bringing over a North Korean delegation to the South are complicated as the two countries are technically still at war.
  • Questions of how North Korea will enter the South, where its delegation will stay, and ensuring its citizens' safety have all been raised.


North and South Korea made huge strides on Tuesday during an official meeting between the two countries, the first in more than two years.

One major breakthrough was the announcement that North Korea will participate in the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. North Korea will send athletes, an art troupe, cheering squad, Taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps.

North Korean figure-skating duo Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik qualified for the Olympics in September, however the country's Olympic Committee failed to register them by the October deadline. The International Olympic Committee announced on Monday it would extend North Korea's deadline so its delegation could compete.

But the logistics of bringing over a North Korean delegation to the South remain complicated.

Some North Koreans may arrive by road, but others by ship

cruise ship nkChung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesA North Korean ferry carrying 368 North Korean supporters sail into the port of Dadaepo September 28, 2002 in Busan, South Korea.

Physically getting the North Korean delegation to the Olympic Games is a hurdle in itself.

Lee Hee-beom, president of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, suggested North Korean athletes would enter the South by crossing the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

If they did so, it would be the first time North Korean athletes arrived at an official sporting event in South Korea by land.

But the offer has not been extended to the non-athlete delegation members.

"South Korea will welcome North Korea and when they decide to come the South Korean government will allow them to come by road and when they have supporting teams the Korean government will allow them to come by ship," Lee told Reuters.

In 2002, when North Korea sent a 606-member delegation to the Asian Games in South Korea's Busan, many members of the group traveled by cruise ship.

The following year, 528 North Koreans attended the Summer Universiade in Daegu, South Korea, and arrived by plane. Flights for athletes to South Korea are relatively common, and often arrive via Beijing, according to Yonhap.

Delegates may walk into the stadium with South Korea

north korean asian games busanPhoto by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesSouth Korean women wave unification flags at departing athletes at Gimhae Airport October 11, 2002 in Pusan, South Korea.

On Tuesday, South Korea's Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that the South had floated the idea of having both Koreas march into the Opening Ceremony under a unified flag. There was no immediate confirmation of that plan.

While North and South Korea have remained at odds since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, the countries have united through sport - even competing together as one team for soccer and table tennis competitions - in the past.

The Koreas marched together for the first time under a unified flag in Sydney's 2000 Olympic Games and did so again for the 2002 Asian Games held in Busan, South Korea.

However, as political tides shifted so did the practice of marching together. The countries last did so at the 2007 Asian Games in China, marking a freeze in their diplomatic ties.

The North Koreans will probably stay on board a cruise ship

north korea at olympicsPhoto by Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesThe North Korean team parading at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics at the Nagano Olympic Stadium, Nagano, Japan, 7th February 1998.

According to Yonhap, the cruise ship that organizers offered to the North has some 390 rooms and could be used to accommodate up to 1,000 people. The ship could plausibly be used as the delegation's lodgings during the Olympics, similar to ship accommodations made available in Busan in 2002.

In previous Olympic Games, North Korean delegations have been invited to stay in vibrant Olympic villages, but often keep to themselves.

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, athletes were reportedly not allowed out of their Olympic compound except for training or events.

The South has come up with creative lodging solutions for the North's delegations in the past.

At the Universiade games in 2003, North Korean athletes stayed at a local bank's training facility, outside of the athlete's village.

It's unknown who will foot the bill

GettyImages 1470186Chung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesSouth Koreans wave unification flags to departing North Korean athletes at Gimhae Airport October 11, 2002 in Pusan, South Korea.

It's unclear who will pay for additional training, transport and accommodations for Pyongyang's delegation.

In previous years, South Korea often paid for the North's delegations to attend competitions in its country, according to The Guardian.

But in the lead-up to the 2014 Asian Games, the South 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.

But last year, South Korea indicated the IOC would shoulder some of the costs.

"The IOC has expressed their willingness to support North Korea in terms of training costs and other costs related to participating at the Games," South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan said.

The IOC also helped provide training equipment to North Korean athletes last year.

Experts are divided on whether such provisions technically breach UN sanctions against North Korea.

But the hope is that having a North Korean delegation will make the Games safer

south korea security olympicsChung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesSouth Korean special police participate in an anti-terror drill at the Olympic Stadium, venue of the Opening and Closing ceremony, on December 12, 2017 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Expert consensus finds that the Olympic Games should be safer with a North Korean delegation within the South's borders, mitigating the risk of an attack.

Still, South Korea is bolstering its security measures due to past rhetoric on the Korean Peninsula.

According to Reuters, South Korea's Defense Ministry will deploy 5,000 armed guards at the Pyeongchang Games, and will also increase cybersecurity measures to guard against hacking from the North.
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