By Joshua Berlinger, CNN
North Korea has been barred from competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as part of its punishment for its “unilateral decision” to drop out of the Tokyo Games this summer, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Wednesday.
Pyongyang chose not to send its athletes to the Summer Games due to concerns its athletes could contract Covid-19 and bring the virus back into the impoverished nation. Experts believe a Covid-19 outbreak would overwhelm North Korea’s dilapidated health care infrastructure.
The IOC said it gave North Korea’s Olympic Committee “a fair opportunity to be heard,” but also communicated “very clear warnings about the consequences of its position” not to send athletes to Tokyo.
“The IOC provided reassurances for the holding of safe Games and offered constructive proposals to find an appropriate and tailor-made solution until the very last minute (including the provision of vaccines), which were systematically rejected,” the statement said.
In response, the IOC suspended the North Korean Olympic Committee until the end of 2022, which effectively bars the country from formally competing in Beijing. The IOC said if any North Korean athletes qualify for the Winter Olympics through processes already taking place, it “will take an appropriate decision in due course for the athlete(s) concerned.”
There are also financial penalties tied to the suspension. North Korea will not receive any assistance from the IOC during the period of suspension, and the IOC said North Korea will not get a share of the money earned from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, as the country “did not contribute to the success of the Olympic Games.” However, those funds had already been withheld due to the punishing international sanctions levied on the Kim Jong Un regime for its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
North Korea has not publicly commented on the suspension.
To date, North Korea has been able to prevent a major outbreak of Covid-19 thanks to a series of draconian public health measures. North Korea has severed almost all of its ties with the outside world in 2020 to prevent an influx of coronavirus cases. Foreign diplomats and aid workers have also fled the country en masse, citing shortages of goods and extreme restrictions on daily life.
From a public health standpoint, the government’s response appears to have worked. North Korea has not reported a major outbreak of Covid-19, and there have been no indications one has taken place, though experts doubt Pyongyang’s claim the country has not seen a single case of the virus.
However, the decision to close North Korea’s border has affected trade with Beijing, an economic lifeline the impoverished country needs to keep its people from going hungry, and a food crisis has reported, tied in part to both inclement weather and trade issues.
Prices of some staple goods reportedly skyrocketed in Pyongyang this summer. Experts say rice and fuel prices remain relatively stable but imported staples such as sugar, soy bean oil and flour prices went up. Residents said non-staple items such as a small packet of black tea sold for around $70, while a packet of coffee fetched more than $100.
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CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton and Jake Kwon contributed to this report