SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has proposed that North Korea join it in fielding a unified women’s hockey team at the Winter Olympics next month, in what would be a first for the Games and a potentially dramatic emblem of the recent turn toward rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula.
“That’s a topic under discussion at the I.O.C.,” Chang Ung, North Korea’s representative to the International Olympic Committee, told reporters at Beijing’s international airport on Saturday.
Mr. Chang, who was on his way back to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, after visiting the headquarters of the Olympic governing body in Switzerland, would not comment on whether North Korea supported the idea. But there would seem to be little reason for the North to oppose it, given its leader Kim Jong-un’s sudden outreach to the South this month.
South Korean officials floated the idea last year, but few took it seriously before Jan. 1, when Mr. Kim — after a year of high tension over his nuclear program — abruptly expressed interest in sending a delegation to the Olympics, which will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Koreas agreed on Tuesday that the North would participate in the Games and that the two sides would resume military-to-military talks about reducing tensions along their border.
The International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the hockey team proposal.
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 in diplomacy and armed conflict, but which also have a history of trying to use sports as an avenue for reconciliation.
North and South Korea have only twice formed a joint sports team, both times in 1991, when their athletes competed together in an international table-tennis championship and a youth soccer tournament. Past negotiations aimed at sending a joint team to the Olympics have all failed.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea proposed in June that the two Koreas form a unified team for the Pyeongchang Games and that the countries’ athletes march together in the opening and closing ceremonies, which they have done before. Mr. Moon’s sports minister, Do Jong-hwan, later suggested that they could form a joint women’s hockey team.
Those proposals were raised on Tuesday when delegations from both Koreas met for talks at the border village of Panmunjom, though the joint statement released at the end of the negotiations did not mention them. South Korean officials said they would continue to discuss the proposals with the North Koreans as well as the International Olympic Committee.
Follow-up sessions at Panmunjom are expected to be held on Monday, when both Koreas agreed to hold working-level talks on their border and to settle details on the North’s plan to send an art troupe to the Pyeongchang Olympics.
South Korean officials said, meanwhile, that the International Olympic Committee was expected to bring together the national Olympic committees of both Koreas, as well as the international hockey federation and the Pyeongchang organizing committee, to discuss the possibility of a unified women’s hockey team and other issues arising from the North’s last-minute decision to join the Games.
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 flexible and is willing to consider wild-card entries for North Korean athletes.
The South Korean women’s hockey team, which has qualified for the Olympics, would be replaced with the joint Korean team under the South’s proposal. On Feb. 14, South Korea is scheduled to play Japan, which for decades ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony; a face-off between Japan and a unified Korean team would have huge emotional resonance in both Koreas.
The prospect of inter-Korean reconciliation, through sports and other channels, has strong appeal in South Korea, so much so that all of its governments have tried for a unified Olympic team with the North.
Such efforts have sometimes led to breakthroughs. In 2000, when the Koreas held their first summit meeting, their delegations marched together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. They did so again in Athens in 2004, carrying a blue-and-white flag representing a united Korea.
But forming a joint Olympic team has proved elusive. Past negotiations have faltered over details such as whether a joint team would have an equal number of players from each side, who would choose the coaches and where the athletes would train.
South Korean athletes, who have far more resources and Olympic experience than the North’s, have in the past balked at the idea of sacrificing their hard-earned prospects for the sake of parity with North Korea in a united team.
South Korean news media 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.
Published at Sat, 13 Jan 2018 11:43:02 +0000