Moon hopes for unified Korean Olympic team

South Korean President Moon Jae In (centre) with a North Korean team at the World Taekwondo Championships in Muju last Saturday.
South Korean President Moon Jae In (centre) with a North Korean team at the World Taekwondo Championships in Muju last Saturday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY/YONHAP

SEOUL • South Korea President Moon Jae In has proposed that his country and North Korea form a unified team to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, pinning high hopes on sports as a driver to kickstart inter-Korean exchanges that have for years been at a standstill.

Mr Moon made the overture last Saturday, at the opening ceremony of the 2017 World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, North Jeolla province, to which the North sent a rare demonstration team. It was the first sports exchange since Mr Moon took office.

The liberal leader, who advocates dialogue and reconciliation with North Korea, recalled 1991, when the two Koreas competed for the first time in one team for the World Table Tennis Championships and Fifa World Youth Championship.

Then in 2000, the year of their historic first summit meeting, athletes from the two countries marched together behind a unification flag as the Summer Olympics in Sydney kicked off.

Despite competing separately, their athletes again used the single name "Korea" and carried a "Korea is one" flag at the 2004 Athens Olympics. "I want to see the same glory again," Mr Moon said. "I want to feel the same Olympic sensation."

A unified team would mean a major milestone in inter-Korean relations, with South Korean officials hoping to create a thaw on the peninsula after years of tensions spurred by the North's nuclear and missile tests.

Past efforts to form a unified team have all faltered over politically delicate details such as the number of players from each side, which side should choose the head coach and where the team would train.

North Korea has yet to say if it will be at the Pyeongchang Games.When the South hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, in Seoul, the North boycotted it.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Moon hopes for unified Korean Olympic team'. Print Edition | Subscribe