SEOUL: North Korea is pulling out of the qualifying tournament for the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar.

The neighbouring South Korean federation, which is due to host the remaining matches in their mutual group, announced the notification.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the North Korean federation had also send a formal witrhdrawal notice to the Asian confederation.

The Covid-19 pandemic had prompted the AFC to order that the remaining eight matches of second round Group H – featuring the two Koreas, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Turkmenistan – should be played in South Korea between the June 3 and 15.

The prospect of the North playing in the South was always politically delicate considering that the two states have remained technically at war since the 1950s.#

This may have played a part in the decision by the North Koreans though sources have suggested that the main factor is a North Korean concern that their players might contract coronavrius and bring the virus back to a country which has closed its borders since January 2020.

North Korea has also restricted imports from its major trading partner China.

Currently, with three games to play, North Korea was fourth out of five in Group H but was still in with a qualifying chance because they are tied on eight points with Lebanon and South Korea and only one berghind leaders Turkmenistan.