Athletes from North Korea will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Saturday.
North Korea will send 22 athletes who will compete in three sports, Bach said, following a meeting between delegations from the two Koreas and Olympic officials in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Athletes from the North and South will also march together under one flag at the opening ceremony for the Games in Pyeongchang, which begin February 9, Bach said.
“This team will enter the Olympic Stadium under the Korean unification flag. I’m sure that this will be a very emotional moment not only for all Koreans but also for the entire world,” Bach said.
He also confirmed that, for the first time in Olympic history, the two nations will enter a joint women’s ice hockey team under the name Korea and represented by the unification flag.
Of the 22 North Korean athletes, 15 will be women and seven will be men, the IOC said. They will be accompanied by 24 coaches and 21 media representatives.
The athletes will compete in ice hockey, ice skating and skiing across five disciplines – ice hockey, figure skating, short track speedskating, cross-country skiing and alpine skiing – the IOC said.
Bach said reaching this outcome “was not an easy journey” but that he was proud of what the representatives of the two Koreas, the IOC and the Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee had achieved.
The proposals from North and South Korea had to be approved by the IOC and Pyeongchang committee before they could go ahead.
IOC leader: Games ‘beyond all political tensions’
North Korea’s unexpected participation, negotiated in talks at the heavily fortified border between the two nations since the start of the year, has been hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that could herald peace on the Korean Peninsula.
However, others fear that South Korea has fallen for a North Korean charm offensive and warned the international community not to be complacent.
In his remarks, Bach said the IOC had been working for several years to address the “special situation” of having the 2018 Winter Olympics on the Korean Peninsula.
“Let us not forget that such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” he said as he thanked the two governments for their embrace of the Olympic spirit.
“The Olympic Games are always about building bridges, they never erect walls. The Olympic spirit is about respect, dialogue and understanding. The Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean Peninsula and inviting the world to join in a celebration of hope.”
Following the talks, the IOC outlined details of how the 22 North Korean athletes will be accommodated in the Games, only weeks before they start.
The women’s ice hockey team will be created by adding 12 players and one official from North Korea to the existing South Korean Olympic squad of 23 players, the IOC said.
In the interests of fairness, only 22 players will be entitled to play in each match, in line with the other teams, it said. They will be selected by the head coach from South Korea and must include three North Korean players for each game.
Other North Korean athletes now allowed to compete in the Games include the figure skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, who had qualified for the Winter Olympics in September but were not registered by their country’s Olympic committee before the deadline.
Two additional places have been allocated in short track speedskating, the IOC said, with one going to Jong Kwang-bom and the other to Choe Un-song, both men.
Three places have been allocated in cross-country skiing, with two men and one woman to compete, and another three in alpine skiing, again with two men and one woman to take part, the IOC said.
Joint training proposed
The IOC had previously approved the two countries jointly participating in Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, something that happened during the Sydney Summer Games in 2000.
But the South Korean Unification Ministry announced an unprecedented range of joint activities between the countries for the Games following talks Wednesday at the Demilitarized Zone.
North and South Korean skiers will train together at a resort in North Korea before the Olympics start, and performers from the two countries will also hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang.
In addition, an art troupe, a 30-strong North Korean taekwondo demonstration team and press corps will travel south, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters in Seoul.
A delegation of 150 North Korean athletes and supporters will attend the Paralympics, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.
An advance inspection team for the art troupe will travel from North Korea on Sunday, the ministry said Saturday. A day earlier, the ministry said North Korea had canceled the advance trip, then scheduled for Saturday, without an explanation.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said he did not rule out the possibility that a North Korean delegation could visit Moscow ahead of the Games.
In an interview with Russia’s state-run TASS news agency published Saturday, Morgulov said the main focus of any meetings would be on bilateral issues. He said the recent talks between the two Koreas indicated that tensions would be reduced during the Winter Olympics.
“In our opinion, the direct dialogue that started between Seoul and Pyongyang, as well as the agreements that were reached during it, give grounds to believe that during the Olympic Games, the situation on the peninsula will be relatively stable,” Morgulov said.
CNN’s Aleks Klosok, Emma Burrows and Sophie Jeong contributed to this report.