Nancy Gillen

This week in Pyongyang, North and South Korea played out a 0-0 draw in a qualifying match for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The fixture took its place in the history books, becoming the first men's game between the two nations to take place in the North Korean capital since 1990.

Despite the significance of the moment, the teams completed the 90 minutes in an empty Kim Il Sung Stadium. Supporters and foreign media were barred from attending, and the match was not broadcast live.

The Korea Football Association (KFA) has since complained about the situation, asking the Asian Football Confederation to consider sanctioning North Korea for its "lack of co-operation".

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min claimed it had tried to "sound the North out several times" to allow fans access to the stadium and for the qualifier to be broadcast on television.

"We asked North Korea on multiple occasions for help in allowing our media and supporters to travel to Pyongyang, but North Korea refused to cooperate," the KFA said in its letter, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

"We believe the AFC should review whether it should discipline North Korea's football association for its lack of co-operation in these and other matters."

However the incident unfolds, it highlights the chasm that still exists between the two countries technically still at war. More notably, it discredits the continued belief there will be a joint Korean bid for the 2032 Olympic Games.

South Korea drew 0-0 with North Korea at an empty Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang ©Getty Images
South Korea drew 0-0 with North Korea at an empty Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang ©Getty Images

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City last month. The meeting, during which Bach reportedly told Moon that the IOC would support the efforts from the two countries to form a joint candidature, seemed to reignite the idea of a possible bid.

A further boost came when it was confirmed there are no plans to award the 2032 Games until 2021 at the earliest, giving North and South Korea more time to put together their plan.

Moon appeared buoyed by the updates, attending the Opening Ceremony of the 100th annual Korean National Sports Festival in Seoul and urging local citizens to "take the lead again" in the hosting of the "2032 Seoul-Pyongyang Olympics".

"When inter-Korea dialogue was cut off, and the relationship was in a difficult situation, it was sport that opened the door to meetings and dialogue," he said.

"If the 1988 Seoul Olympics opened the era of harmony between East and West, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opened the era of peace on the Korean Peninsula."

Yet the possibility of such a joint bid seems extremely remote when North Korea will not allow media or supporters into a football match. Hosting the biggest sporting event in the world would require accepting the influx of people wanting to report on, or watch, competition, something which the country is clearly not willing to do.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with IOC President Thomas Bach to discuss a joint Korean bid for the 2032 Olympic Games ©IOC
South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with IOC President Thomas Bach to discuss a joint Korean bid for the 2032 Olympic Games ©IOC

The incident also shows a lack of communication between the two nations, with Lee sounding exasperated at having to repeatedly contact North Korea with little return. 

It is not the first time this has happened recently in the sporting arena. With plans to field a joint team in women's hockey at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, South Korea heard nothing from North Korea when trying to organise combined training sessions, meaning they could not register a unified side for the International Hockey Federation Series Finals.

How would it be possible to organise an Olympics with such little contact? If a joint bid was to materialise, this would have to be sorted very quickly.  

In general, it seems as if relations between the two Koreas are too volatile and erratic to allow for a joint bid. 

When the mood dips, this also plays out in the sporting world. North Korea were a very notable no-show at the International Swimming Federation World Aquatics Championships in the South Korean city of Gwangju. Their absence came at a time when they were exchanging a war of words with their neighbour, having reportedly carried out a number of missile tests. 

Relations will not be able to improve and remain at the level required to organise a joint event.

Despite recent optimism from Moon and the IOC that a North and South Korean Olympic Games could be possible, the match under such controlled conditions in Pyongyang has simply highlighted how unlikely it is to happen.