In a symbolic move, North and South Korea will field a unified women’s hockey team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday.
North Korea accepted the South’s proposal to create a unified Olympic team during border talks Wednesday. The details for the unprecedented feat will be hammered out in discussions with the International Olympic Committee, which is working out the specifics for North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics.
The two Koreas also agreed to march together under a unified Korean banner during the opening ceremony at the Olympics. Athletes from the two sides will also train together.
South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan first proposed forming a unified Olympic team last June, and the idea received support from South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The idea faded as North Korea spouted aggressive rhetoric and engaged in regular ballistic and nuclear provocations.
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The idea resurfaced at the first talks in two years last week.
While South Korean officials consider the creation of a unified Olympic team a simple matter, athletes and coaches are concerned, arguing that players who have earned a spot at the Olympics will be sent to the sidelines for the liberal government’s sports diplomacy.
A senior official with the Korea Ice Hockey Association said the idea of a joint Olympic team “absurd” in an interview with Reuters. “We are utterly speechless that the government just picked us out of blue and asked us to play with total strangers at the Olympics,” an official told reporters, which reported that some athletes are “furious.”
While most South Koreans support the North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, more than 70 percent oppose the creation of a unified team, according to a recent survey.
“I think there is damage to our players,” South Korea women’s hockey head coach Sarah Murray explained Tuesday, “It’s hard because the players have earned their spots, and they think they deserve to go to the Olympics. Then you have people being added later. It definitely affects our players.”
“I am kind of shocked this happened so close to the Olympics,” she added, noting that the players begged the South Korean government in June not to make them a political statement and just let them play the game.
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