North Korea to skip World Cup qualifiers over coronavirus concerns, South says

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has notified authorities that its team plans to skip next month's World Cup qualifiers hosted by South Korea due to coronavirus fears, the South's football association said on Monday.

North Korea's football association (PRKFA) sent a letter on Friday to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) declaring that its team would not participate in the second round of qualifiers, Korea Football Association (KFA) spokesman Lee Jae-chul said.

The AFC is asking North Korea to reconsider the decision, he added.

Matches across Asia in the second round of qualifying for next year's World Cup in Qatar have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with all but three games due to be played in March postponed until June.

The AFC announced on April 12 that rather than having the typical home-and-away format, each group of five nations would play in one host country.

South Korea was named as host for H Group, which includes the two Koreas as well as Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.

North and South Korea, still technically at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, last played each other in a 0-0 draw at a virtually empty stadium in Pyongyang in October, 2019. It was the first match between the teams on North Korean soil in 30 years.

It was not broadcast after the North refused to screen it live, and the KFA later filed a complaint with the AFC because fans and media were not allowed to attend.

North Korea's decision to skip the World Cup qualifiers came nearly a month after it announced it would not take part in the Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus concerns.

(Reporting by Josh Smith, editing by Ed Osmond)

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