Shelling and sports don’t mixNorth Korea has announced that it will send its athletes and sports delegation to the Incheon Asian Games, which will be held from Sept. 19 through Oct. 4. It will be the third time North Korea has sent athletes and representatives to international sports events held in South Korea, following the 2003 Busan Asian Games and the 2004 Daegu Universiade.
In individual sporting events, both sides sent teams to each other’s turf. In the 2013 East Asian Championship in South Korea, for instance, North Korea sent its women’s national soccer team to Seoul. Two months later, at the Asian Weightlifting Championships organized by the Asian Weightlifting Federation in Pyongyang, South Korea sent its national squad.
Sports exchanges can serve as a catalyst for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula as seen in the soccer matches between Seoul and Pyongyang in 1990, which led to the historical Inter-Korean Basic Agreement between South Korean President Roh Tae-woo and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in 1991 on reconciliation, nonaggression and cooperation. Moreover, a unified team’s participation in the 1991 World Team Table Tennis Championship in Japan led to a moving victory for the women’s team, and a joint soccer team advanced to the quarter final in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Portugal in the same year.
Needless to say, sports exchanges should be welcomed, and the more, the better.
But such exchanges lose their meaning when one side is still engaging in military provocations and verbal attacks on our president. On Friday, the North fired two artillery shots at one of our Navy’s boats patrolling near the waters off Yeonpyeong Island on the tense maritime border on the Yellow Sea. Our Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the two shells fell in waters only 150 meters (492 feet) away from the patrol ship. North Korea’s shelling of our naval vessels is a new type of military provocation. On the very day when Pyongyang notified Seoul of its intention to join in the Incheon Games, it claimed that South Korea fabricated the report of the shelling.
We are dumbfounded at the North’s unfathomable logic. On the one hand, it talks about the spirit of friendship that will mark the Asian Games. On the other, it accuses South Korea of fabricating an attack on its own ship. North Korea must not forget that only when it stops military provocations and calumnies against South Korea can the Incheon Games turn into an international sports festival for peace.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 30