As a punishment for refusing to send their contingent to the Tokyo Games 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has been formally suspended from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by the IOC on Wednesday.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said the North Korean national Olympic body will also now forfeit money it was due from previous Olympics. The unspecified amount — potentially millions of dollars — had been withheld because of international sanctions, according to Associated Press reports.

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In April, North Korea withdrew its team from the Tokyo Olympics citing a need to protect athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by COVID-19.”

However, Bach said that if athletes from North Korea individually wish to compete in Beijing they could still be accepted by a separate decision in the future.

Since the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, when the International Olympic Committee attempted to help a diplomatic breakthrough, North Korea's Olympic status has plummeted.

Athletes from the Korean neighbours marched together in the opening ceremony at Pyeongchang and joined together in a women’s ice hockey team.

“They were violating the Olympic Charter and did not fulfill their obligation as stated in the Olympic Charter to participate,” Bach said at a news conference after an IOC executive board meeting.

The North Korean Olympic committee is suspended through 2022 and the exclusion could be extended, he further added.

North Korea had sent 10 competitors to the 2018 Winter Games, none in 2014 at Sochi, Russia, and two to Vancouver in 2010.

Meanwhile, asked what the IOC's message would be to countries like North Korea and Afghanistan, where women risk losing the right to play sports, Bach said, taking part in the Olympics can “show to the world how it could look like if everybody would respect the same rules, if everybody would live together peacefully without any kind of discrimination.”

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Bach had earlier talked about the IOC supporting efforts to help athletes and officials leave Afghanistan with humanitarian visas and extending financial help for the country's potential Olympic competitors.

Less than five months from the start of the 2022 Winter Games, it was suggested to Bach that China's treatment of its Muslim minority Uyghur people was also a humanitarian issue and not yet directly addressed by the IOC.

"There are limitations in our influence," the IOC president said. "It’s to take care of humanitarian issues within the Olympic community. This is what we are doing."

With inputs from the Associated Press