N Korean ice hockey team arrives in South
A dozen North Korean female ice hockey players joined their Southern counterparts on Jan. 25 to form a unified team - the Koreas’ first for nearly three decades - at next month’s Winter Olympics.
The Pyeongchang Winter Games have triggered an apparent rapprochement on the divided peninsula, where tensions have been high over the nuclear-armed North’s weapons ambitions. But the unified women’s team has provoked controversy in the South, with accusations that Seoul is depriving some of its own players of the chance to compete at the Olympics for political purposes.
Wearing padded team jackets against the cold - emblazoned “DPR Korea”, the North’s official name - the 12 athletes crossed the land border near Kaesong.
Their new teammates presented them with bouquets of flowers when they arrived at the South’s national ice hockey facility at Jincheon to start training.
“I am glad that the North and the South have got together to compete,” reports cited the North’s coach Pak Chol Ho as saying.
Since the division of the peninsula the two Koreas have only competed as unified teams in 1991, when their women won the team gold at the world table tennis championship in Japan, and their under-19 footballers reached the world championship quarter-finals in Portugal.
The North is contributing 12 players to the ice hockey squad, in addition to the original 23 South Korean skaters, the two sides and the International Olympic Committee agreed at the weekend.
Concerns have been expressed in the South that the sudden addition of so many players so close to the competition -- for which South Korea qualified as hosts, rather than on merit -- will disrupt team chemistry.
Public anger has also been fanned by senior Seoul officials who sought to justify the decision on the grounds that the women’s team had no real medal chances anyway.