North and South Korea agree to form first joint Olympic team

North and South Korea agree to form first joint Olympic team
South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, center right, shakes hands with the head of North Korean delegation Jon Jong Su during their meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea.

North and South Korea have agreed to form their first joint Olympic team and their athletes will march together during the opening ceremony of next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, officials in Seoul have said.

Seoul’s unification ministry said the Koreas reached the agreement over the games in the South during talks on Wednesday at the border village of Panmunjom.

Athletes from the two Koreas will march together under a "unification flag" depicting their peninsula during the opening ceremony, and the two countries will field a single women’s ice hockey team.

The measures require approval by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The South Korean ministry said the two Koreas will consult with the IOC this weekend.

These are the most prominent steps toward rapprochement achieved by the Koreas since they recently began exploring cooperation during the Olympics following a year of heightened tension over the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

During their third day of talks at the border in about a week, senior officials reached a package of agreements.

A joint statement said the North Korean Olympic delegation will travel to South Korea across their heavily fortified land border. The delegation will include a 230-member cheering group, a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, and journalists, athletes and officials.

Ahead of the Pyeongchang Olympics, the Koreas will hold a joint cultural event at the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain and will have non-Olympic skiers train together at the North’s Masik ski resort, according to the statement. It said the North also plans to send a 150-strong delegation to the Paralympics in March.

South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, center left, and the head of North Korean delegation Jon Jong Su leave after a meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea.
South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, center left, and the head of North Korean delegation Jon Jong Su leave after a meeting at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju, South Korea.

The agreements are highly symbolic and emotionally charged. But it is still not clear how many North Korean athletes will come to Pyeongchang, because none are currently qualified. South Korean media have predicted only up to 10 North Korean athletes will end up being covered by an additional quota from the IOC.

A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for this year’s Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation. The IOC said recently it has "kept the door open" for North Korea to take part in the games. IOC officials are to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the Pyeongchang organising committee in Switzerland on Saturday.

The IOC said in statement Wednesday that it has "taken note of a number of interesting proposals from different sources".

The two Koreas have previously sent joint teams to major international sports events twice, both in 1991. One event was the world table tennis championships in Chiba, Japan, and the other was football’s World Youth Championship in Portugal.

During an era of detente in the 2000s, their athletes marched together during the opening and closing ceremonies of nine international sporting events, including the Olympics and Asian Games, but they failed to produce a joint team.

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