Joint Olympic team is easier said than done

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Joint Olympic team is easier said than done


President Moon Jae-in, third from left in suits, encourages the North Korea-led ITF demonstration team after their performance at the opening ceremony of the World Taekwondo Championship in Muju County, North Jeolla on Saturday. Second from right in suits is Ri Yong-son, president of the ITF. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

During the opening ceremony of the World Taekwondo Championship in North Jeolla on Saturday, President Moon Jae-in suggested that North and South Korea form a joint team at the Olympics.

The logistics of this, however, make it an unlikely proposition. The biggest barrier is the ability of North Korean athletes to qualify for the Olympics. Not many North Koreans qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, for example, and none have qualified for the upcoming Olympics in PyeongChang.

“Some of the sports, like figure skating pairs and short-track speed skating, are still in the process of selecting Olympic participants, but there are large gaps in ability between North Korean athletes and the world’s top athletes,” said Han Myung-sub, general secretary of the Korea Skating Union.

That said, if the two countries were to have a joint team, it would require that South Korea eliminate some of its athletes to make room for North Korean athletes. Recently, Do Jong-hwan, the new minster of sports and culture, suggested a joint women’s ice hockey team.

But the South Korean women’s ice hockey team is comparably better than the North Korean ice hockey team, as South Korea swept North Korea 3-0 at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships Division II Group A in April.

“For the past six to eight years, we only trained towards the goal of playing at the PyeongChang Olympics,” said Han Soo-jin, a forward for the South Korean women’s team. “It upsets us that this is being discussed for political reasons rather than to strengthen the team.”

But there is a way to include North Korean athletes, even if they don’t qualify, by making a special request to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for certain sports like short-track speed skating.

This will require a social agreement between the two countries, and North Korea may decline since there could be 130 South Korean athletes and only five or six North Korean athletes.

Aside from a joint team, Do also suggested hosting some of the events at North Korea’s Masikryong Ski Resort, which opened in 2014.

To do so, the resort will have to meet the IOC’s requirements, such as 1.2 meters (4 feet) of snow and 80 meters in elevation, and must host a test event at least a year before the Olympics.

The Jeongseon Alpine Centre and PyeongChang Olympic course, which was built in January 2016, hosted successful test events earlier this year. Most importantly, foreign athletes may not be willing to travel to North Korea for safety reasons.

Chang Ung, the only North Korean member of the IOC, even mentioned during the dinner reception after the opening ceremony of the World Taekwondo Championship that it may be a little late to have a joint team, as it required five months and 22 inter-Korean talks to form a joint team for the 1991 World Table Tennis Championship.

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