Moon touts joint team of two Koreas in Jincheon

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Moon touts joint team of two Koreas in Jincheon


President Moon jae-in, center, poses for a group photo with national team ice hockey players during his visit to their training center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong, on Wednesday. Moon tried to sell the players on his controversial plan to form a unified women’s ice hockey team with players from North and South Korea for the upcoming Winter Olympics. [YONHAP]

Despite public criticism that Seoul’s push for an inter-Korean team is robbing South Korean athletes of a rare chance to play in the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, President Moon Jae-in urged players on Wednesday to consider the importance of improving ties with the North.

“If the two Koreas march together [in the opening and closing ceremonies] or create a joint team, it will be a great starting point to advance inter-Korean relations,” Moon said in his opening remarks at a luncheon with the national teams of winter sports during his visit to their training center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong.

“I don’t think our competitiveness will be highly increased by forming a joint team with the North,” Moon said. “In fact, we’ll probably need more effort to ensure good teamwork. But if the two Koreas form a joint team and play, it will be a moment to be remembered for a long time.”

Moon also said the Korean people and the world will be touched by a joint team, urging the athletes to cooperate with his campaign to use the sports event to seek inter-Korean peace.

Since the North decided to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, scheduled to start on Feb. 9, the two Koreas have been negotiating the specifics, discussing plans to march together in the opening and closing ceremonies and form joint teams for some sports, including women’s ice hockey.

Public criticism snowballed this week over the fairness of joint teams. Earlier this week, senior Moon administration officials tried to calm these concerns. Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon have said adding a few North Korean players will not have a serious impact on teams.

The head coach of the South Korean women’s ice hockey team, Sarah Murray, still said on Tuesday that her players will suffer if North Korean players are suddenly added. She also said it was shocking that the plan is being pushed so close to the Olympics.

During his visit to the Jincheon training center, Moon also met with ice hockey players from the men’s and women’s teams and sought their understanding for the plan.

“It is still undecided, but a discussion is ongoing about a single Korean ice hockey team,” Moon said. “Whether it is realized or not, I believe it is a good opportunity for the Korean ice hockey teams to attract public attention and become more popular.”

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