N Korean women team to skip soccer competition in S Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea won't send its women's soccer team to a regional competition in South Korea in December amid strained ties between the two countries.

The East Asian Football Federation said Wednesday that North Korea informed it in mid-September that it won't take part in the 2019 EAFF E-1 championship in the southeastern city of Busan.

"We feel that North Korea is not participating in the event due to a complicated reason (caused by politics). I think it is something the North Korean football officials cannot handle by themselves," Park Yong Soo, the EAFF general secretary, said.

South Korea's soccer association said it also confirmed North Korea's decision when association officials visited Pyongyang earlier this month for a men's World Cup qualifier match between the two Koreas. Korean Football Association officials said North Korea gave no reason for deciding not to send a women's team.

The development is yet another sign of deteriorating sporting ties between the two Koreas amid lack of progress in a broader global diplomacy on North Korea's nuclear program.

North Korea blocked fans and international media from attending the World Cup qualifier at an empty stadium in Pyongyang. There was no live broadcast of the match, which ended in a scoreless draw. FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he was "disappointed."

South Korea's soccer association later sought a sanction for North Korea, sending a letter to the Asian Football Confederation and arguing that North Korea failed to uphold rules requiring host nations to grant visas and entries for traveling supporters and media without discrimination.

Sports exchanges often mirror the status of political ties between the two Koreas, which remain split along the world's most heavily fortified border for about 70 years.

Last year, athletes from the two Koreas walked together during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and fielded a joint team in some events as their relations improved ahead of the start of the nuclear diplomacy. But North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both held in Seoul.

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