Theme images by Petrovich9. Powered by Blogger.


North and South Korean Teams to March as One at Olympics

North and South Korean athletes marched together during the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

HONG KONG — North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to have their athletes march together under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics next month and to field a joint women’s ice hockey team, the most dramatic gesture of reconciliation between the two nations in a decade.

Seoul has said in the past that it hoped such a move could contribute to a political thaw after years of high tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile tests.

The Games will begin on Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the women’s ice-hockey squad will be the first combined Korean team for the Olympics, and the first unified team since their athletes played together for an international table-tennis championship and a youth soccer tournament in 1991.

The two countries’ delegations will march at the opening ceremony behind a “unified Korea” flag that shows an undivided Korean Peninsula, negotiators from both sides said in a joint news release after talks at the border village of Panmunjom. The North will send 230 supporters to the Games, and negotiators agreed that supporters of both Koreas would root together for athletes from both countries.

The prospect of North and South Koreans cheering together could help President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who has been pushing for dialogue and reconciliation with the North, even as President Trump has threatened the North with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” should it put the security of Americans and their allies at risk.

The two countries also agreed on Wednesday that their skiing teams would train together in the Masikryong ski resort in North Korea. The resort, a showpiece project of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, was opened in 2013.

South Korean officials said on Wednesday that the North’s delegation would include at least 550 people, including about 150 to the Paralympic Games in March. But the joint news statement said that the final number would be determined in Switzerland on Saturday, when the International Olympic Committee is to bring together North and South Korean officials. The plan is for the North’s athletes to enter the South over a land border on Feb. 1.

So far, the only North Korean athletes to qualify for the Pyeongchang Games are a pairs figure skating team. North Korea missed an Oct. 31 deadline to accept invitations from South Korea and the International Olympic Committee to join the Games. But the international body has said it remains willing to consider wild-card entries for North Korean athletes.

A unified team of any kind at the Olympics would be a milestone for the Koreas, which have been bitter rivals in international sports as well as diplomacy and armed conflict, but which also have a history of trying to use sports as an avenue for reconciliation.

Mr. Moon proposed in June that the two Koreas form a unified team for the Pyeongchang Games, but the suggestion was not taken seriously until the Mr. Kim used his New Year’s Day speech to propose dialogue with the South and to discuss his country’s participation in the Olympics.

That proposal led to a series of talks in Panmunjom between the two Korean governments. In an earlier round of negotiations, the North agreed to send a 140-member orchestra to play in the South during the Olympics.

The prospect of fostering inter-Korean reconciliation through sports and other channels has strong appeal in South Korea, so much so that successive governments have tried to negotiate sending a unified team to the Olympics.

Such efforts have sometimes led to breakthroughs. In 2000, the year of the first inter-Korean summit meeting, the countries’ delegations marched together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. They have marched together nine times, including in Athens in 2004, carrying a blue-and-white flag representing a united Korea, and at the 2006 Winter Olympics. The two Koreas last marched together in the Asian Winter Games of 2007.

But forming a joint Olympic team proved elusive. Past negotiations faltered over such details as whether a joint team would have an equal number of players from each country, who would choose the coaches and where the athletes would train.

South Korean athletes, who have far more resources and Olympic experience than their counterparts from the North, have balked in the past at the idea of sacrificing their hard-earned prospects for the sake of parity with North Korea in a united team. South Korean news outlets have reported that the South asked the International Olympic Committee to allow a unified hockey team to have an expanded roster, so that none of the South Korean players would have to bow out of the Games.

No comments