Pyongyang: North Korean sports administrators are hoping the country will come in from the sporting cold in the wake of leader Kim Jong Un’s summit with Donald Trump in Singapore.
Isolated and subject to UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, North Korea does not often host international sporting events.
An AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifying group last year — when North played South — was the highest-profile event it had held for years.
But as tensions mounted it lost the right to hold the junior world championships for judo and weightlifting, both of which it had been awarded.
Even so it has held on to an annual International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Challenge-level event, the Pyongyang Open, currently underway.
In the wake of the Singapore summit, when Kim and Trump shook hands in front of the cameras, tournament director Kim Chong Il said he hoped his country would now be able to host more international sporting occasions.
The North was capable of hosting, he said, adding that previously “the limitations were not set by our side”.
Table tennis has had a diplomatic role in the past — matches between China and the US helped break the ice ahead of Richard Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing in 1972 which led years later to Washington’s recognition of the People’s Republic.
And at the world championships in Sweden last month, North and South Korea unified their teams rather than play against each other in the quarter-finals. “For us, it’s very important that table tennis is for all and that we can play table tennis all over the world,” ITTF finance vice president Petra Soerling said in Pyongyang.
“For us this is very important. If instead of closing the door we can open the door we would love to be part of that.”
A total of 23 foreign players took part in the Pyongyang Open, mostly from China and Vietnam, but also including Scotland number one Gavin Rumgay.