Koreas agree to form joint ice hockey team and march together in Winter Olympics under pro-unification flag

The two nations announced the unified position after meetings in the Panmunjeom truce village

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 10:21pm

The two Koreas on Wednesday agreed to form a united women’s hockey team for next month’s Winter Olympics in the South, the latest in a flurry of cross-border talks.

Following a working-level meeting held at the truce village of Panmunjeom, the two sides also announced that their athletes would make a joint entrance carrying a pro-unification flag, according to Yonhap news agency.

A North Korean delegation will visit the South next week to review the facilities at the Games venue, Yonhap reported.

South Korea also agreed to send its athletes to the North’s Masikryong ski resort for training ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics, which will run from February 5 to 25 just 80km (50 miles) south of the demilitarised zone that divides the peninsula.

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Following Wednesday’s meeting, the North confirmed it will dispatch 230 cheerleaders and a 30-strong taekwondo delegation as well as a 150-member delegation for the Paralympics. On Monday, it agreed to send a 140-member art troupe to the Games.

The 550-member group will travel by land through Kaesong, which lies on the main road from Pyongyang to Seoul.

The formation of a unified women’s hockey team would mark a first in the Olympics. The plan has received some criticism from the South because of concerns that South Korean athletes who made the national team might be bumped off to make room for the North’s players.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in has previously said a joint ice hockey team would be a historic event that would move the hearts of people around the world. He also expressed support for athletes from the Koreas marching together under a blue-and-white “unification” flag.

Seoul has long sought to proclaim next month’s event a “peace Olympics” in the face of tensions over the North’s weapons programmes – which have seen it subjected to multiple UN Security Council sanctions – and the latest discussions represent a marked improvement.

Three officials from each side took part in the talks and the results will be discussed by both Koreas with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Saturday.

The IOC must approve extra Olympic slots for the North’s athletes after they failed to qualify or missed deadlines to register.

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Two North Korean figure skaters had qualified for the games, but the North failed to register them in time and they lost their slot in the pairs competition. Whether a special effort is being made to get them back into the games, or to bring in athletes for any other events, is not clear.

Although no medals are involved, the North’s taekwondo squad is expected to demonstrate the country’s version of the traditional Korean martial art, which is an official Summer Olympic event.

There has been some speculation about the attendance of high-ranking officials from the North. Kim Jong-un sent three of his top lieutenants to the South for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon. If a similarly senior bunch were to go, that would be big news.

Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse