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01/29/2018 Special > Special

Title

[Op-ed] Unified Korean Women's Ice Hockey Team in PyeongChang

North and South Koreas participating in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics as a unified Korea

김소연

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The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics is about to raise its curtains in 10 days. Aside from the fact that the Olympics is the quadrennial global festival, PyeongChang is drawing the world's attention because of the IOC's (International Olympic Committee) approval of a unified team of the two Koreas. Although the discussion of unified participation began back in 2011 during the foundation of the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games, the decision was made when the deadline for submission was way overdue due to the seemingly hasty decision to share the 22 player roster in women's hockey. 
 
South and North Korean ice hockey players are taking a photo after the 2017 IIHF Women's Ice hockey World Championship in April 6th, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Yonhap News)

Ice hockey is considered ‘the game’ in winter Olympics. The South Korean National Ice Hockey Team has never made it to the Olympics because they were not qualified. Therefore, 2018 is the first year ever for Korea to play in the big game. The International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Skating Union approved Korea’s entry as part of a special favor for the hosting country. Granting entry for the hosting country was abolished in 2006, while the following Winter Olympics – Toronto and Sochi – were hosted by countries with strong ice hockey teams. Korea ranks 23rd internationally. 

The issue of the unified team in women’s ice hockey appeared on the table in early January after Kim Jong-un's new year's greeting speech where he expressed his positive opinion in participating in the PyeongChang Olympics. In the high-level talks in the Panmunjom, North Korea’s participation in the game was discussed, leading to related discussions such as the use of the unified flag or how many athletes and cheerleaders should go to the South. In the following vice-minister level conference, both Koreas agreed to march together under the unified flag, and the ‘fear’ of the united team for women’s ice hockey became a real concern for many people. Then, the IOC agreed to ‘the Olympic deal’ on the 21st of January to grant united entry with 22 North Korean athletes, and most symbolically, accepting the South Korean government’s request to enlarge the quota for women’s hockey. The two Koreas will participate in the game with a total of thirty-five players, with twelve of them being North Korean. The coach, Sarah Murray – now the coach for the united team – will be mandated to use three North Korean players in each game according to the Olympic Korean Peninsula Declaration.
 
South Korean president Moon Jae-in and the president of IOC Thomas Bach. Moon is assuring Bach that the Olympic Games would not be threatened by regional conflicts in September 20th, 2017.
(Photo courtesy of insidethegames)

The legal base for the unified team lies in the Special Act on the Support for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Game, article 85, which was established in 2011. Despite the fact that the unified team is not a news, more than 70 percent of the South Koreans seem to disapprove the government’s decision. An Instagram post from the national hockey team player Lee Minji on 20th, January raised sympathetic sentiment among the people, too. She mentioned that “a second in the field is invaluable for every player” and that she cannot understand how “the decision will have a minor impact on the athletes”, criticizing the authority. Thomas Bach, president of IOC spoke “The Olympic Games show us what the world could look like, if we were all guided by the Olympic spirit of respect and understanding,” and I agree to his point that the Olympics should be about the spirit of peace and global unification. Although many Korean people harshly criticize the Moon administration as far as to call '2018 Pyongyang Olympics', it is understandable for the president to take the international spotlight to show the world how the two Koreas are working towards peace. 

One of the main reasons why South Korean corporates are having a hard time receiving foreign investment is the unstable political situation in the peninsula. Although many Koreans do not foresee the war to break anytime soon, the ten-year long hostility during the Lee and Park administration and Trump sitting in the Whitehouse did not help the situation between the North and South Korea. Now that Moon struggles to thaw the relationship, the Olympics seems like a huge opportunity to alleviate the distrust. 2018 PyeongChang Olympic will be the first Olympic in history for the two Koreas playing as one. Taking the Olympic spirit; "to build a peaceful and better world" into account, peacemaking after the tensions built up due to the missiles late 2017 seems like an adequate timing. Moreover, there are several widespread misunderstanding behind the name 'Pyongyang Olympics'. One is that the South Korean flag will not be raised during the games. The unified flag will fly only after the events where the North and South Koreas have jointly participated. Another misunderstanding that shared code of 'COR' is by the request of North Korea, while in fact, the code comes from French term (IOC's official language aside from English) Corée du Sud and Corée du Nord.
 
The North and South Korea is entering the 2000 Sydney Olympics with a unified flag. The two Koreas marched together in the opening ceramony.
(Photo courtesy of Hankyoreh)

There are disagreements to the decision from the general public and the politics, pointing out that South Korea and the United States have agreed to postpone the annual joint military drill for North Korea taking part in the Olympic Games. Some papers wrote that this is all part of North Korea's plan to acquire more ballistic missiles and strengthen their military power. We do not know if that allegation is true or not, but North Korea would not have agreed to take part in the games if they had nothing to benefit from. By showing the two government's will to build peace and bring security in the international society, both nations will benefit during and after the games. 



Kim So-yun       dash070@hanyang.ac.kr
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