North Korea drops out of Tokyo Olympics amid coronavirus fears

The Olympic Games in Tokyo were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020.
The Olympic Games in Tokyo were originally scheduled for the summer of 2020. Charly TRIBALLEAU AFP

North Korea has pulled out of this year’s Tokyo Olympics amid coronavirus fears – becoming the first country to do so.


A website run by the Sports Ministry said North Korea’s national Olympic Committee had made the decision on 25 March to protect its athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by Covid-19”.

Despite Pyongyang's claim that no coronavirus infections have been recorded in the country, North Korea has maintained strict border closures and quarantine rules.

Japan’s Olympic Committee said it has not been notified of North Korea’s decision to skip the Tokyo Games.

Organisers of the Tokyo Games, due to begin on 23 July, have rushed to put into place anti-virus measures to ensure the safety of both athletes and residents.

The last time North Korea missed a Summer Olympics was in 1988, when it boycotted the Seoul Games. Before that, it boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Diplomacy setback

This year’s decision ends South Korea's hopes of using the Olympics to restart diplomatic talks with the North.

In 2018, North Korea sent 22 athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with government officials and a cheer squad.

Both North and South Korean athletes marched under a blue map symbolising a unified Korean Peninsula – a move that led to a series of landmark summits.

Seoul this month lodged a proposal with the International Olympic Committee to co-host the 2032 Olympics with Pyongyang, despite Brisbane being the front-runner.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app