Seoul (AFP) – Seven South Korean sports associations are considering forming joint teams with North Korea for this year’s Asian Games in Indonesia, an official told AFP Monday – but reports said football will not be joining them.
At their groundbreaking summit on Friday, the latest step in a rapidly moving diplomatic sequence, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s president Moon Jae-in agreed to show solidarity by “jointly participating in international sports events such as the 2018 Asian Games”.
The phrasing left open whether it was a reference to unified teams, or marching together at opening ceremonies, as they have done at several past Olympics, including this year’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang in the South.
But a spokeswoman for the South’s national Olympic committee told AFP that the country’s governing bodies for “basketball, judo, canoe, gymnastics, table tennis, rowing and soft tennis have expressed interest”.
No details had been discussed yet, she added.
Seoul’s unification ministry declined to comment on the issue but said the two sides will soon hold a working-level meeting which may include discussions on joint teams at the Asian Games.
Some sports bodies are already pushing ahead, proposing their own plans for the Asian Games, which will take place in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.
The Korean Canoe Federation said Monday a joint team for the dragon boat race — one of three canoe disciplines at the event — will be a good idea since neither Korea has a national team for it.
“Even if we form a joint team, it won’t affect any existing athletes,” the group said in a statement.
The joint teams could hold open practice sessions on the Han river in Seoul as well as the Taedong river in Pyongyang, it added.
– Final whistle –
But the South’s football association declined the idea, Yonhap news agency reported, saying the move could require unwanted sacrifices from its players.
In South Korea, male athletes who win gold at the Asian Games or any Olympic medal are exempted from the country’s mandatory two-year military service.
Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min could be among the players seeking the Asian Games title to enable him to extend his career in Europe without interruptions.
Son withdrew from consideration for the South Korean team for London 2012 — when the side finished third, earnings its members the exemption — to concentrate on his club activities with Hamburg SV.
When a joint women’s ice hockey team was first mooted for the Winter Olympics it provoked a backlash in the South, on the grounds that Seoul was depriving its own athletes of the chance to compete on the Olympic stage.
Ultimately the sight of North and South Korean skaters wearing the same jersey and passing the puck to each other drew emotive responses from spectators and quickly became an Olympic favourite, despite the team being thrashed in all five of their matches.
The rapprochement on the peninsula was triggered by the Games, to which the North’s Kim sent athletes, cheerleaders and his sister as an envoy.
Friday’s historic meeting saw Kim and Moon agree to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula and to improve inter-Korean relations.
Seoul’s defence ministry said Monday it will start removing propaganda loudspeakers along the border with the North on Tuesday.