(ATR) International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons and South Korea President Jae In Moon express optimism that North Korea will compete in its first Winter Paralympics at PyeongChang 2018.
"We want next March’s Games to involve as many countries as possible," Parsons said in a statement following his meeting with the South Korean President on Oct. 17. "We were both in strong agreement that we would like North Korea to participate for the first time in a Winter Games."
North Korea made its Paralympic debut at the London 2012 Summer Games with Rim Ju Song competing in swimming and followed that with two athletics entries for the Rio 2016 Summer Games, Kim Chol Ung and Song Kum Jong. A North Korean has yet to compete in the Winter Paralympics, a trend that Parsons and Moon hope ends next March.
The two leaders met at the conclusion of the final IPC Project Review in PyeongChang that began on Oct. 15. With less than five months until the second Winter Paralympics in Asia, Parsons said fan engagement and awareness is still a point of major concern for organizers.
"POCOG is now gearing up to transition from the planning phase to delivery," said Parsons. "While we remain confident that the sporting competition will be excellent in PyeongChang, we further stressed to POCOG the urgent need to increase awareness of the Paralympic Winter Games and further engagement with the Korean public.
"With just over 140 days to go until the Opening Ceremony, it is essential that progress is made in these two areas in order to drive ticket sales and TV viewing figures."
A recent report from the Korean Herald said that ticket sales for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics are at just 4.2 percent with the event fast approaching. Parsons hopes increased engagement from the South Korean government can boost sales and awareness.
"I was really impressed with President Moon’s enthusiasm for the Paralympic Winter Games and understanding of what the event can do for changing perceptions of people with an impairment in South Korea and sending a strong message of peace to the world," Parsons said.
"We also want the Paralympic Winter Games to engage great numbers of Koreans. More people coming to watch the Games will not only create a better environment for athletes but also provide a chance to change the people and their city."
PyeongChang 2018 president Hee Beom Lee welcomed the opportunity to meet with Parsons during his first visit to South Korea.
"The IPC Project Review is a great opportunity for him to see firsthand that PyeongChang is ready to host the Games and the ongoing final preparations five months out," Lee said in a statement.
"We look forward to working closely with the IPC to ensure that the Paralympics are a great success and that Paralympians experience a great Games in PyeongChang."
Parsons and IPC leaders are now traveling to Tokyo for another Project Review of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan’s capital. The three-day review begins on Oct. 19.
The PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics will take place from March 9-18.
Written by Kevin Nutley
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