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Diplomatic gold? Joint North Korea-South Korea Olympic bid faces long odds

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Diplomatic gold? Joint North Korea-South Korea Olympic bid faces long odds

SEOUL/BERLIN (Reuters) – If North and South Korea succeed in their long-shot bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics, any athletic feats at the Games may be overshadowed by the political achievements needed to make it happen.

South Korea capital city Seoul’s Mayor Park Won-soon gives a presentation during a general meeting of Korean Sport & Olympic Committee in Jincheon, South Korea, February 11, 2019. Picture taken February 11, 2019. Yonhap/Handout via REUTERS

Buoyed by the role the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics played in easing tensions last year, South Korean and North Korean officials are due to meet on Friday with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Switzerland to discuss what would be the first ever bid by two countries.

To make Olympic history, experts say the bid would need to overcome international sanctions against North Korea, decades of mistrust between Seoul and Pyongyang, and wide political and economic differences between two countries still officially at war.

The Switzerland meeting comes ahead of a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam, which will be key to the future of reclusive North Korea’s relations with the world.

Since the Olympic bid was announced after a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang in September, South Korean officials have been pushing forward with plans despite the obstacles. On Monday Seoul was named as the city that would make the South Korean bid.

In a statement, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said officials would soon seek to establish a line of communication with Pyongyang and “make all-out efforts” to co-host with North Korea and make the 2032 Olympics the “last stop to establish the peace”.

For its part, the IOC said in a statement it “welcomes very much” the two Koreas’ intention to jointly host the 2032 games, as “sport could once more make a contribution to peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world”.

“From a political perspective it would be huge,” said one senior IOC member who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive process. “Because we can say that the IOC brought peace in that area a year ago during the Games in Pyeongchang and it is a huge achievement for the IOC and President Thomas Bach.”

But privately, IOC members also expressed scepticism.

“We have not really spoken about it yet,” another member said. “Any discussions today are more an exercise in political marketing than real details of such Games.”

CONTENTIOUS HISTORY

Last year’s Games in Pyeongchang may have left warm feelings in Seoul and Pyongyang, but the two Koreas share an older, darker Olympic history.

After Seoul was selected to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korea proposed that it be allowed to co-host the Games.

Those talks went nowhere and just months before the Olympics opened, North Korean agents bombed a South Korean airliner, killing 115 people. The one surviving agent said the attack was aimed at disrupting the Games.

Later, North Korea pursued its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, earning the ire of South Korea and the international community, which imposed stifling sanctions on Pyongyang.

North Korea also faces international sanctions over human rights abuses, including prison camps and repressive control over much of the population.

“At this very moment it is difficult to imagine it without some huge political changes,” one senior IOC member told Reuters, comparing the idea to East and West Germany trying to co-host the Olympics at the height of the Cold War. “Is it possible or realistic to have Games in two countries with such different political, economic and infrastructure systems?”

Advocates see the Olympics as precisely the vehicle to bridge many of the gaps between the two Koreas.

“The fact that North Korea is pursuing hosting an Olympic games is a statement of their intent to denuclearize, to become part of the international community, and to open their doors,” said chairman of South Korea’s parliamentary sports committee An Min-suk.

LOGISTICAL HURDLES

A joint bid could be welcomed under the IOC’s Agenda 2020 and New Norm reforms of recent years, which aim to reduce the size of the Games and the burden on the host city or country.

Among a long list of potential bidders mentioned for the 2032 Games are Mumbai, Shanghai, Melbourne, Johannesburg and the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

South Korea has made a positive impression both times it hosted the Olympics, the second IOC member said.

“The level of organization is fantastic,” the member said. “It means they have the skills for such events.”

The North Koreans, meanwhile, have long made athletics a major part of their international outreach, and have poured significant amounts of their limited resources into building sports infrastructure as part of Kim Jong Un’s drive to become a “sports power”.

For example, they tout Pyongyang’s May Day stadium as one of the largest in the world, and it already sports Olympic rings and a cauldron for an Olympic flame.

This was not lost on international visitors who attended the opening of the “Mass Games” performances there in September.

“This looks like an audition for an Olympics opening ceremony,” Gianni Merlo, the head of the International Sports Press Association told Reuters at the event.

Other countries have pitched multi-city Olympics, including an Italian bid that is one of the finalists of the 2026 Winter Games.

But North Korea will pose more challenges.

Current sanctions against North Korea bar or limit a whole spectrum of activities including financial transactions, oil imports, and joint ventures.

During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, North Korean athletes could not be gifted the Galaxy Note 8 smartphones that sponsor Samsung Electronics gave to all athletes, due to sanctions.

“A North-South Korea joint Olympic hosting will fit the Olympic spirit to a T – promoting peace, reducing war and building relationships,” said Kim Yeon-chul, Director of Korea Institute for National Unification.

“But in order for it to happen, everything has to go together – resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, the U.S.-North Korea relations, and the acceptance of the international community.”

Reporting by Joyce Lee and Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Josh Smith and Joori Roh; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

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Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March

After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.

FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.

Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.

Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.

Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.

Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.

Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.

In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.

“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”

—Field Level Media

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

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WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final

Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.

Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”

Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.

“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”

Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.

Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.

“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.

“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”

Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.

Hungarian Ladies Open

Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.

Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.

Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.

—Field Level Media

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.

The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.

Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.

Kraft has denied wrongdoing.

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