GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Friday it was helping North Korea prepare its athletes for the winter games in South Korea next February and would cover costs of their equipment if needed.
Reuters reported on Thursday that North Korea had protested to three global sporting federations that its requests to buy sports equipment for its athletes were being denied due to U.S.-led sanctions.
Three letters from North Korean sporting associations, seen by Reuters in Geneva, were addressed to the International Ski Federation (FIS) and World Archery Federation, both based in Switzerland, and the International Shooting Sport Federation (SSF), based in Munich, Germany.
The United Nations Security Council has imposed nine rounds of sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) since 2006 for its nuclear and missile programs. The trade restrictions have gray areas, including on some sports equipment.
None of the three international governing bodies responded to requests for comment, but IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau confirmed the IOC had been copied into the letter to FIS.
“The IOC is providing the NOC (National Olympic Committee) of DPRK with assistance to prepare their athletes for the Pyeongchang Games,” Moreau said by email on Friday.
The Lausanne-based IOC was “currently making arrangements” with the International Ski Federation and International Skating Union to cover the participation of North Korean athletes in qualifying competitions and training camps, she said.
Currently “five to 10 athletes are expected to take part in those qualifying events. The final number and costs incurred will only be known at the end of the process,” she added.
“All costs for their participation will be covered by Olympic Solidarity and this includes equipment, if needed and requested,” Moreau added, without referring to the sanctions.
The letter from the Ski Association of the DPRK said it had sent several requests for purchase to “more than 20 ski equipment production companies and sales agencies including Atomik (Atomic), Blizzard, Fischer, in June and July”, referring to three Austrian makers of ski equipment.
Two of the Austrian makers - Atomic and Blizzard - contacted on Friday said that they had no records of such requests.
“We have contacted all relevant departments internally. We did not receive a request from North Korea,” Fischer Sports Chief Executive Franz Foettinger told Reuters in an email.
“We definitely did not get a request from North Korea,” said Blizzard’s Austrian sales representative Thomas Rakuscha.
“We do sell our skis to South Korea and even have a general importer there, but we have never heard of a purchase request from the North.”
Olympics organizers sought on Friday to ease French concerns about the winter games, saying the safety of athletes was their priority and nations in the region had no doubts that the event would go ahead.
Additional reporting by Kirsti Knolle in Vienna; editing by Andrew Roche