PYONGYANG, North Korea – With just one year to go before South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics, North Korea's Olympic committee lashed out Monday against sanctions over its nuclear and long-range missile programs, claiming they are aimed at hurting the North's efforts to compete in international sports events.
Sanctions that block the sale of such items as skis, snowmobiles, snow groomers, yachts and even billiard tables are a "vicious ulterior political scheme" to prevent the country from having sports exchanges and achieving its goal of becoming a world sports power, Kang Ryong Gil, deputy secretary-general of North Korea's National Olympic Committee, said in a statement.
Such items are identified as luxury goods subject to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations because of North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.
It's rare for a North Korean official to say that sanctions are affecting the country. Normally North Koreans when talking in public insist that sanctions don't matter to them and they say that they will survive on their own whatever the rest of the world does.
But in a brief scripted statement, Kang said some European countries are refusing to sell sports equipment to North Korea.
The statement also claimed that sanctions block the International Olympic Committee and international sports federations from transferring funds they would otherwise provide North Korea, as they do for other developing countries.
Kang did not comment on whether North Korea will compete in the upcoming Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
North Korea, which on Sunday conducted another missile test that has been widely criticized as a U.N. resolution violation, frequently protests sanctions as unjust. But this may be a particularly sore nerve.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made raising the country's profile in global sports a high priority of his regime. There has been a clear effort in the North to nurture world-class athletes capable of bringing back gold medals from major world competitions, similar to the sports powerhouses of East Germany and other nations in the former communist bloc.
A ban on winter sporting equipment also hits close to home for the North's leadership.
Soon after assuming power in late 2011, Kim, who lived in Switzerland for a time when he was young, ordered the construction of North Korea's first and only luxury ski resort.
The facility at Masik Pass has been singled out by some sanctions advocates as a prime example of how luxury goods still find their way into the country, usually via China. Following the North's nuclear test early last year, the sanctions were tightened to specifically target equipment used to maintain the resort's slopes.
The tougher trade restrictions appear to have had little impact, however. The resort continues to not only be operational and well-stocked, but is also a popular destination for foreign tourists along with North Korean work units, social groups and schoolchildren.
North Korea has been subject to several rounds of U.N. sanctions since its first nuclear test in 2006.