Pyeongchang - Olympics chief Thomas Bach on Monday dismissed concerns that North
Korea has tried to "hijack" the Winter Games for political purposes, as
officials revealed he will visit the isolated country after the
tournament in South Korea.
Bach said he regarded North Korea's participation purely in sporting
terms despite the rapid round of diplomacy between the two Koreas during
the opening days of the Games.
"This is about sport and this the IOC made very clear," Bach told AFP
in an interview. "This is about the role of sport to build bridges, to
open doors and nothing more.
"It's just a symbol for sport and it's a symbol for the fact that
when you go over these bridges you can come to a positive result."
Brokering North Korea's involvement has been a proud achievement for
Bach's International Olympic Committee, as the two Koreas marched
together at the opening ceremony and formed a unified team in the
women's ice hockey.
It has also set the stage for a period of intense reconciliation
efforts, including the visit of Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong who
delivered an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit
However, some South Koreans are sceptical about the sudden
rapprochement, while US Vice-President Mike Pence said North Korea was
trying to "hijack the message and imagery" of the Olympics.
North Korea's U-turn after months of warlike rhetoric and weapons
tests prompted fears among some countries about sending athletes to
Pyeongchang, and questions about whether the Games should be moved
Bach's spokesman Mark Adams said the IOC president would visit North
Korea after the Games, although no date has been set. The visit was
agreed as part of the deal for North Korea to take part in the Olympics,
In what has been called a
propaganda coup, North Korea has launched a major charm offensive at
the Games, where it has a delegation of more than 500 - including their
large, all-female cheering squad - supporting 22 athletes.
Bach had South Korea's Moon on his left and the high-level North
Korean delegation on his right when the two Koreas played their first
ever Olympic fixture together, in the women's ice hockey tournament on
He said the IOC was happy to play the role of peace-maker - but that it was up to politicians whether to take advantage.
"Sport cannot create peace but sport can build bridges. We can open
doors, we can show that dialogue can lead to a positive result as we
have shown there with our discussions and negotiations over the years,"
"This is what we can do and there we'll always be very restricted to
sports matters. All the rest, politicians have to do. It's up to them
whether they then use this momentum for their talks."
Bach also revealed that he wasn't sure that the two Koreas would go
ahead with their joint march until they finally walked into Pyeongchang
Olympic Stadium for Friday's opening ceremony.
"We always said we're going to believe it the moment we see them really coming in," he said.
"Seeing this moment happening was great emotion and great joy to be
able to send this message of understanding, of peace, this Olympic
message from Korea to the world.
"It's of particular importance that it's coming from the Korean peninsula, where we have these high political tensions."