[EDITORIALS]Sports diplomacy has risksSouth and North Korea have agreed to dispatch a single sports team to the summer Asian games that will be held in Qatar next year. In the past, the two Koreas have formed unified teams for individual sports and have marched together at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. But this would be the first time the two countries would participate in a large international competition as a unified team.
Despite the agreement, problems will surely arise over the details of selecting team members and the like. The biggest is how to decide the composition of the team. The plan being reviewed most intensively now is to form unified teams for team events and participate separately as North Korea and South Korea in individual sports. This plan also has problems.
What flag should be raised at medal ceremonies? Would it be the Korean Peninsula flag for group events and national flags for individual games? If the peninsula flag were used in all cases, the South Korean flag would no longer be seen, perhaps with a bad effect on local sentiment here. We must also consider the harm that athletes will suffer from being omitted from a combined national team, including the loss of sports pensions and their exemptions from military service. Officials of both countries must keep such problems in mind and solve them.
Sporting events have played a great role in pulling down walls of confrontation that have stood between countries. The best example is the “ping-pong diplomacy” of the Cold War days between the United States and China. It is the same between South and North Korea. In 1991, in the World Table Tennis Championships, the entire nation celebrated when the two countries won as a unified team. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, South and North Korea marched together in the opening ceremonies under the Korean Peninsula flag, a symbolic gesture to the whole world that the two countries were making efforts for reconciliation and cooperation. Now, if indeed the two Koreas are able to participate as a unified team, there will be a positive effect on relations between the two countries.
Seoul, however, must remember that a unified team should not be used as a political slogan advocating a purely Korean solution to all the North-South problems. We should also be on guard so that a unified team is not used to bolster calls for hasty reunification.