Watch CBS News

North Korea to skip the Olympics for the 1st time in 3 decades

North Korea to skip 2021 Olympics
North Korea drops out of 2021 Tokyo Olympics 01:36

Tokyo — Citing concerns over the coronavirus, North Korea has announced that it will not join the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which start in late July. It would be the first time North Korea has declined to participate in an Olympics since it boycotted the Seoul Games in 1988.

Japan was apparently blindsided by the announcement from North Korea's Olympic Committee that it wouldn't be sending teams to the Tokyo Games.

South Korea's government expressed disappointment over losing the chance to re-start contacts with Kim Jong Un's regime on the sidelines of the Games.

North Korea's seclusion has deepened during the pandemic, which led it to close its borders. The country claims to be completely free of COVID-19, though experts are deeply skeptical.

On March 25, North Korea test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles — the first test of such weapons in a year. Diplomacy was rekindled after North Korea attended the last Olympics in 2018, but in recent years talks between Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang have foundered.

North Korea tests Biden administration with missile launches 15:09

Temple University Japan's Jeff Kingston told CBS News that North Korea's decision to skip the Olympics this year represents yet another setback for diplomacy.

But could North Korea really be concerned about its athletes, or might this be some kind of message to the U.S.?

"I think it's, on the one hand, thumbing its nose at the international community, but also wanting to get its attention," said Kingston.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics
Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Opening ceremony – Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium- Pyeongchang, South Korea – February 9, 2018 - Cheerleaders of North Korea await the start of the opening ceremony. Reuters

But the coronavirus, which has already delayed these Summer Games a full year, is still having an impact. 

Olympics organizers have cancelled a water polo test event set for this weekend, because of COVID-related travel restrictions, and reports say the international swimming federation has nixed several qualifiers because of what is considered inadequate antiviral measures. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.