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Olympics: Kim Jong Un’s love of sport could be making of Games

SEOUL/BERLIN (Reuters) – As Olympic officials try to convince North Korea to join the things that they hope will be a calm winter Games from the South in February, chief Kim Jong Un includes  a weakness that may assist them : He loves sport.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends cultural and sports events being held to mark the completion of the design of Songdowon International Children’s camp in this undated picture released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang May 3, 2014. REUTERS/KCNA/Files

Kim has traded insults and atomic risks with U.S. President Donald Trump for months, raising concerns the Games, due to be held at a resort 80 km (50 miles) from the world’s most heavily fortified border, may be marred by political worries, or even worse.

Economic sanctions around the reclusive nation are now mounting but the athletic world and South Korea do everything in their power to try to coax Pyongyang to take an invitation into the Games and relieve geopolitical worries that have hurt ticket sales.

“We’re doing our utmost for the North’s participation,” said Ki-hun, a lawmaker with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s celebration. “But Kim Jong Un is quite unpredictable,” added melody. He’s located near the Games venue and sits on a special parliamentary committee to support the Pyeongchang Olympics.  

Kim, a basketball fan who sees former NBA star Dennis Rodman as a friend, has boosted spending on sports as part of his dream to turn the North to a “sports electricity”

If the North joins the Games it would mark the first time in post-war Olympic history that a country has hosted a group from a nation where it’s formally at war. The Korean War ended in 1953 with the armistice, not a peace treaty.

The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, the 1988 summer Games in Seoul, North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, boycotted them following a strategy to co-host them fell apart.

“With North Korea that point, things will be simpler,” said a European official from a winter sports federation, asking not to be identified because of the political significance of the topic. “The Games will just be really successful if they’re smooth. If the United States, North Korea and China all have their own teams from South Korea then will be a success”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the possibility of U.S. athletes competing with North Korea, a country Trump has threatened to “completely ruin” if provoked.

North Korea missed an Oct. 31 deadline to accept invitations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and South Korea to join with the Games.   But Games officials have said the North may wait until shortly before the Games to state whether it will join.

The IOC said its aid thus far has largely been with traveling and competition expenditures, and it will consider wild-card entries for those who don’t meet eligibility criteria.

Seoul has said it’s available for forming a unified North-South hockey hockey team. Pyongyang’s IOC representative dismissed that idea in a recent press interview, but a South Korean culture ministry official said Seoul hadn’t abandoned it.

Seoul’s other expressions incorporate a rare proposition for North Korean athletes to go into the South by walking around the border at Panmunjom, the stressed and heavily shielded “truce village” in which the 1953 armistice has been signed.

        GOING FOR GLORY

Kim Jong Un, grandson of founder Kim Il Sung, has made sport a major focal point of his strategy to enhance living standards. Ever since he assumed power in 2011, spending on sport in the country’s annual budgets has grown quicker than the majority of other places, according to state media reports.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a newly constructed sports goods factory in Pyongyang in this undated picture released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 2, 2016. KCNA/ via REUTERS/Files

The reports, that only give percentage information, comprise a record 17% jump in financing in 2014 if Kim set out his dream for sports in an open letter for his Workers’ Party.

He encouraged the party and athletes to help make sport component of everyday life and uphold “the party’s strategy of constructing our country to a sports ability, sweat longer in training in order to bring glory to the country by winning gold medals.”

He had school textbooks revised to state he started shooting at a gun at age, was off-road driving before turning 8, and had twice defeated foreign master mariners in ship races, according to the Institute for National Security Strategy, the think tank of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service in Seoul. Reuters couldn’t confirm this report.

Simon Cockerell, mind of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, that has attracted competitors into the North for events ranging from the Pyongyang Marathon into Frisbee-throwing and cricket, ” said he’d noticed an increasing focus on sports beneath Kim.

“More events appear to be happening, DPRK sports teams are traveling more than ever, and success is celebrated over before,” said Cockerell, using the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

At the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, North Korea’s athletes won 11 gold awards, standing first time, and were welcomed with a victory parade and a banquet with Kim who penned them for supporting the “party’s strategy for constructing a sports powerhouse”

The North is developing sports arenas and grounds, based on Curtis Melvin, of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, in which satellite imagery is used to map the North’s economic development.

“Satellite imagery reveals a lot of park renovation and construction of skate and sports parks, also in very remote places,” Melvin said.

Kim Jong Un, that analyzed at the Swiss capital Bern and in accordance with former classmates went to school ski excursions in the Alps, has already assembled a ski resort.  

    HOCKEY STICKS

Thus far, just two North Korean athletes have qualified for the Games: figure-skating pair Ryom Tae Ok along with Kim Ju Sik, whose patterns are set to music from The Beatles and Ginette Reno’s “Je ne suis qu`une chanson.”

An IOC official said other people may be eligible for cross-country skiing, and perhaps accelerate hockey and biathlon, a combination of shooting and skiing.

Even if they don’t, Games organising committee leader Lee Hee-beom advised Reuters athletes might be invited to compete – a more common Olympics practice to encourage participation by underdogs, for instance athletes from a tropical nation in a winter sport. 1 famous instance brought a Jamaican bobsleigh team to Calgary in 1988. That prompted a film based on their exploits.

An additional problem for North Korea might be sanctions. In March last year, the U.N. Security Council included “recreational sports equipment” into a listing of luxury goods banned from export into the nation. North Korea’s National Sports Guidance Committee has accused Washington of working with the United Nations to extend “its tentacles deep into the area of sports”

After the North Korean hockey team arrived in New Zealand last April to the World Championships, the sport’s global body ordered to equip them with 50 fresh sticks that it would not be possible to export into the Northand also a New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation official said.

The team passed back the sticks at the airport on their way home, also a New Zealand Customs Service spokeswoman said.

Composing by Mark Bendeich; Developed by Sara Ledwith

The sport of kings

My heart began pumping adrenaline in huge quantities as four identically clad horsemen charged headlong over a pot covered field measuring 300 from 160 yards, swinging long mallet like ‘sticks’ in a bid to move a hard wooden ball into the target, while an equivalent number of both skillful and adventurous riders attired in a different colour, desperately tried to thwart them together with no apparent idea for their life or limbs. With heart racing, I watched the game, vowing as to not do so again for ‘health’s sake’, but each season, I am inexorably drawn into the place, where together with bated breath, so I stand watch to an early relationship between man and horse as they indulge at the Sport of Kings – Polo.

The pedigree of the game can be traced back into a person between the 6th Century BC and the 1st Century AD, as a favorite tribal in the Hindu Kush, the Central Asian grasslands beyond and China, where it spread into Persia in the West and Manipur in the East. The game’s look in Persia is said to be through the period of the Parthian Empire i.e. 247 BC into 224 AD, where it flourished into the 16th Century from the title of ‘Chaugan’, under popular patronage of and nobility. Some British historians state that the phrase (chaugan) was derived from the ‘rod’ transported by the players, while others link it together with the amount of riders in each facet. The former version however, seems to be accurate because the ‘group of four’ is a relatively modern invention. The present name ‘Polo’ however seems to have been derived from the Tibetan word ‘Pulu’ or ‘ball’. This could well be right since the ‘ball and stick game on challenging ridden ponies’ was widely used in ancient Tibet.

The ferocity and passion of the means by which the game was played over centuries can be borne by the toll it’s taken on its playing fields. The Byzantine Emperor Alexander, who died from exhaustion while hotly engaged in pursuing the ball ; King John I of Trebizond, who uttered his last due to a deadly injury suffered through the game; Sultan Kutubuddin Aibak from the Slave Dynasty, who became a casualty of this , when his horse fell, impaling its rider around the pommel.

From Persia, the game spread into South Asia and the Sub Continent, where it continued to be patronized by the Mughal emperors and after the British. The modern game of polo is based from Manipur, where it was called ‘Pulu’ and it is in all probability, the anglicized form of this phrase, which was adopted by the in its own slow spread into the West. Lieutenant (later Major General) Joseph Ford Sherer, credited as the father of modern polo is believed to have introduced the game in England. The English can also be credited with spreading polo globally in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. This was in 1875 that British settlers in the Argentine pampas organized the very first formal polo game of the country at Buenos Aires, setting the stage for Argentina to develop into a leading polo playing country along with popularizing the at Brazil, Chile and Mexico. The charge of introducing the game in USA should again go the English. It’s widely considered that British Texans organized the very first formal polo match in Galveston someplace in 1876.

In Pakistan this exciting fight for the ball saw many patrons among the army and people who could afford to keep strings of polo ponies. It’s however at the Northern Areas i.e. Gilgit, Chitral, Hunza and Baltistan, where this game has endured and flourished as centuries. The most scenic manifestation of the is during the annual Shandur Polo Tournament between conventional rival teams of Gilgit and Chitral. This can be polo in its own older ‘raw energy’ type — even a no holds barred game that enthralls foreign and local visitors at a setting that takes one back in time.

For those spectators watching the foam flecked horses, their intrepid riders and their ability using rein and spur, this really is ample evidence that what they’re seeing is indeed a ‘Sport of Kings’.

The author is a historian.

The present name ‘Polo’ however seems to have been derived from the Tibetan word ‘Pulu’ or ‘ball’. This might well be right since the ‘ball and stick game on hard ridden
Ponies’ was widely popular in ancient Tibet.