North & South Korea to Enter as One in Winter Olympics

It was announced on Wednesday that North Korea and South Korea will introduce their athletes together at the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony and are to make a joint women’s ice hockey team. Athletes from both countries will march together carrying the “unified Korea” flag, the emblem of which depicts an undivided Korean peninsula.

The tournament will be hosted in Pyeongchang, South Korea, starting February 9. The women’s ice hockey team will be the first unified Korean team in the Olympics, and the first time Koreans have merged sporting teams since they played together in an international table-tennis championship and a soccer tournament in 1991.

South Korea – the host country – said that it hopes this sporting gesture will help to defuse the tensions between the two nations which have grown over previous years; coming as the threat of war over the North’s nuclear missile threat to the South becomes frighteningly possible. It is not expected that this decision alone will instigate a quick solution to the nuclear arms standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons program, but it gave relief to the South who have become anxious over the possibility of missile attacks.

Diplomats from both sides declared the news in a joint press release after negotiations in the border village of Panmunjom. They also agreed that supporters can cheer for both the North and the South. The North agreed to send 230 supporters to the games.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in hopes that the Olympics agreement will allow them to open a channel of communication with the North, after years of silence.

News of the agreement was welcomed by members of the United Nations, and Secretary General António Guterres said that he plans to attend the opening ceremony. The President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajcak, tweeted: “Heartened by reports that Koreans from DPRK & RoK will march together in @Olympics opening ceremony.”

Alongside this decision, both countries decided on Wednesday that their skiing teams would train together at the Masikryong ski resort in North Korea.

So far, the only North Korean athletes to qualify for the games are a pairs figure skating team; the deadline to accept invitations from South Korea was missed by the North, but the international body has said that it is willing to make an exception.

President Moon proposed the idea of having a unified Korean team for the Winter Olympics back in June, but the idea was not taken seriously until Kim Jong-un proposed a dialogue with the South to discuss the North’s participation in the games in his New Year’s Day speech. This led to a series of discussions between government officials of both countries in Panmunjom.

For a long time, the South has tried negotiating a completely joint Olympics team, which they think would aid reconciliation between the two nations. Some breakthroughs have occurred – in 2000, after the first Korean summit meeting, the countries’ athletes marched together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. This has happened nine times, including in Athens in 2004 and at the 2006 Winter Olympics. They last marched together in the Asian Winter Games in 2007. But forming a unified team seemed impossible. Negotiations broke down over such things as whether a joint team would have an equal number of athletes from each country, where the athletes would train and who would choose the coaches.

South Korea first attempted to cool-off military tensions through sports in the 1960s, suggesting joint teams for international athletic events, but ideas such as this have never led to anything substantial between the two nations, who have been technically at war since the Korean War in 1950-53, which was halted by a truce.

Tom Day

18 January 2018 16:57