North Korea has 191 athletes signed up for the Asian Games starting next week, according to organizers, suggesting the country is poised to end its more than three-year isolation from the global sporting arena.
North Koreans are listed on the Asian Games’ website for accredited media to compete in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in sports including athletics, gymnastics, basketball, football, boxing and weightlifting.
North Koreans were similarly down to compete at a weightlifting tournament in Cuba in June, but they failed to show.
North Korea closed its already tight borders in early 2020 following the outbreak of the pandemic and skipped the Tokyo Olympics, which were pushed back to 2021 because of COVID.
It was then banned by the International Olympic Committee from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for failing to take part in Tokyo.
There have been recent signs that the border restrictions have been eased slightly, with a taekwondo team allowed to travel to a competition last month in Kazakhstan.
Prior to that, North Korea had not sent any of its domestic athletes to overseas competitions since the pandemic.
The sporting action at the Games in Hangzhou starts on September 19, four days before the opening ceremony, with North Korea scheduled to face Taiwan in men’s football that day.
Leader Kim Jong Un is said to be an avid sports fan and Games host China is North Korea’s longtime ally and main economic benefactor.
North Korea has traditionally been especially strong in weightlifting, dominating the event at the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018 with eight golds.
Ri Song Gum and Rim Un Sim, who both won gold in the women’s weightlifting five years ago, are scheduled to appear in Hangzhou.
But North Korea has also been among the countries punished for doping in the sport, including what governing body the IWF called “multiple positive cases” in qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Asian Games feature about 12,200 competitors in total — more than the Olympics — and end on October 8.
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