Everyone wins in sports exchangesPing-pong diplomacy played a pivotal role in U.S.-China relationship in the early 1970s, and sports often was instrumental in thawing ties between the two Koreas.
In 1990, a friendly soccer match between North Korea and South Korea in Seoul revived relations for the first time in 44 years, and the following year the two Koreas signed the landmark Basic Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation. After the two Koreas held a soccer match among workers in Pyongyang in August 1999, the first inter-Korean summit meeting took place in June 2000.
This is why we pin our hopes on the 39-member women’s football team from North Korea that arrived in Seoul Thursday for the 2013 Asian Cup that starts today at World Cup Stadium. It is the first time a North Korean sports team has been in Seoul since April 2009, when the national soccer team came to play qualifying games for the 2010 South Africa World Cup.
Inter-Korean sports exchanges have made progress since the two countries agreed in February 1991 to join forces in international contests. The Koreas fielded a joint team to the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan where the women’s team won. The Korean team entered small and big international games after they marched together with a unification flag at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. North Korea sent its team and cheering squad to the Busan Asian Games in 2002 and Daegu Universiade Games in 2003.
Sports exchanges stopped, along with most other inter-Korean cooperation, during the Lee Myung-bak administration partly due to the hard-line stance of the conservative government, but also because of North Korea’s deadly attacks against the Cheonan naval ship and Yeonpyeong Island.
President Park Geun-hye has vowed to separate humanitarian aid and sports and cultural exchanges from political relations.
Seoul permitted the entry of the North Korean women’s soccer team and invited North Korea to participate at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014. The Korean Basketball League plans to invite a North Korean team next month for a friendly tournament between professional players of the two countries.
The two Koreas have begun dialogue, but talks to normalize the joint-venture industrial park in Kaesong are deadlocked.
We hope such sports exchanges can once again stimulate the inter-Korean relationship. We welcome the North Korean soccer team and wish them good luck.