North Korea skipping Tokyo Olympics over COVID-19 concerns

North Korea has decided to skip the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, citing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The National Olympic Committee of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea discussed and decided not to participate in the 32nd Olympic Games to protect athletes from the global health crisis by the vicious virus pandemic," the North Korean sports ministry said in a statement via Nikkei Asia. The decision to withdraw from the Olympics was reportedly made at a March 25 meeting of North Korea's Olympic Committee.

North Korea is the first country to drop out of the upcoming Olympics due to COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, the country has maintained that it has no cases of COVID-19, though that has not been confirmed by any organization outside of North Korea.

IOC says decision not yet official

The International Olympic Committee told NBC News on Tuesday that from their end, North Korea's withdrawal isn't yet official. There's a procedure that a country must follow to opt out of participating in the Olympics, and the country has yet to send in an application “to be released from their obligation to take part in the Olympic Games, according to the Olympic Charter.”

The IOC also hasn't been able to have any conversations with North Korea about COVID-19 or anything else.

North Korea “was, despite several requests of the IOC, not in a position to hold a telephone conference during which also the COVID-19 situation in North Korea should have been discussed,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to NBC News Tuesday.

North Korea was part of the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and also boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. They've participated in every Olympics since 1988, including the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Their participation in the 2018 Olympics started nuclear talks between them and South Korea, which have since stalled. Their withdrawal from the 2021 Olympics likely ends any hope of further diplomatic talks between isolated North Korea and any other country.

This picture shows the Olympic Rings outside the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo on March 22, 2021. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)
North Korea is dropping out of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

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