By Graham Earnshaw, Reuters
PYONGYANG, Dec 3, Reuter – North Korea is building huge sports stadiums for the 1988 Olympic Games even though no agreement is in sight on its demands to co-host some of the events with arch-enemy South Korea.
Three areas of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang have been turned into vast construction sites as workers toil to prepare what the authorities promise will be some of the most spectacular stadiums on the world.
The 1988 summer Olympics were awarded to the South Korean capital Seoul and quickly became yet another area of dispute between the two Koreas, bitter foes since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The communist North initially refused to have anything to do with the games and tried to convince the rest of the communist world to boycott the Seoul Olympics.
But foreign sources in Pyongyang said it looked increasingly likely that both China and the Soviet Union would attend the Seoul Olympics no matter what happened.
North Korea last month indicated it wanted to host at least eight events, saying this number would be in proportion to the populations of the two Koreas.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), meanwhile, has offered the North four events — archery, table tennis and some soccer and cycling.
The wrangling continues.
The official magazine Korea Today said in its latest issue that South Korea was trying to sabotage the North’s proposal to co-host the games.
“In order to attain their dirty political purposes, they are propogandising that we have no sports facilities prepared for the Olympic Games. But this is a bloody lie which distorts the facts,” the magazine said.
Pyongyang, a city filled with extravagantly large monuments, already has a wide range of impressive indoor and outdoor sports facilities, but more are going up especially for the Olympics.
Two large stadiums are being built on islands in the middle of the Taedong River which flows through central Pyongyang, including one with seating for 150,000 people.
Other facilities including an entire “sports village” are under construction just to west of the city close to the birthplace of North Korean President Kim Il-sung.
According to the official North Korean media, the idea for the Angol sports village was “unfolded” by the President’s son, Kim Jong-il, who is now believed to be in full control of the country’s domestic affairs.
The area will include an outdoor stadium, and eight gymnasiums especially designed for basketball, handball, light athletics, badminton, swimming, volleyball, table tennis and weightlifting.
The plans also call for the construction of an International Press Centre, which raises a key question hotly debated by foreigners in Pyongyang:
Is the North ready to accept the influx of thousands of western journalists, officials and spectators who would inevitably come if Olympic events were held here?
North Korea is one of the most isolated and security-conscious countries in the world.
Western tourists number no more than a few hundred every year, and Pyongyang is linked by air to only three cities — Moscow and Khabarovsk in the Soviet Union and Peking.
Some foreign residents think security concerns will force North Korea to find some pretext to abandon its plans to host Olympic events.
Others think the country has opened enough in the past few years to accept the influx of foreigners, although there may be heavy restrictions on entry.
The question is not addressed at all by the official North Korean press, but in terms of sporting facilities the Korea Today magazine is clearly correct when it declares:
“Pyongyqang is prepared for the Olympic Games.” REUTER NNNN