A teenage swimmer is set to become North Korea’s first ever representative in the Paralympic Games, which are to be held in London shortly after the main Olympic Games later this summer.
According to sources close to the story, 17-year-old Rim Ju Song, who was apparently disabled in a childhood construction site accident, will be a wildcard in both the freestyle and breaststroke competitions.
Rim, who received funding to travel to a qualifying event in Berlin from the British Embassy in Pyongyang, is said to be “very happy, very pleased and very excited” to have the opportunity to compete.
However, his Chinese coach Jin Cheng Zhe has moved to play down the young man’s chances, saying, “Of course we are not expecting too much because he’s pretty young and hasn’t had time for very much training yet.”
The International Paralympic Committee approved North Korea’s provisional membership in March, while Chosun Shinbo, the publication issued by Chongryon, the association for North Koreans in Japan, said in May that North Korea was trying to register a number of athletes for various events in the games; however, it now appears that Rim will be the only competitor.
The move fits North Korea’s recent pattern of trying to improve its public relations image. However, mistreatment of the disabled is just one of an array of human rights violations that the regime in Pyongyang stands accused of; for example, it is asserted that disabled persons are prohibited from living in Pyongyang.
As such, whether Rim turns out to be a one-off public relations tool for the Kim regime or a portend of better treatment for the disabled in North Korea overall remains to be seen.
The Paralympic Games are to be held from August 29th to September 9th. North Korea has already announced that it plans to send 51 athletes to participate in the Summer Olympics as well, which run from July 27th to August 12th.