By Steve Keating
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – The prospect of seeing a unified Korean women’s ice hockey team return to action at the 2022 Winter Olympics would be welcomed by International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), who believe it would keep alive the message of peace and hope.
The team has found little success on the ice, losing all four games so far while scoring just one goal, but has won a gold medal for diplomacy by bringing together two nations still technically at war and opening the door to warmer relations.
One member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has even suggested that the unified team, competing together for the first time, should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“We are thinking about this, whether we should continue. I say, ‘Why not?” IIHF chief Rene Fasel told a press briefing ahead of the women’s semi-finals on Monday.
“I think that would be good to do it in 2022, to go to the Beijing Olympics, to keep the North and South Korean team. It is a message of peace and we hope to continue that. We will try.”
Lee Hee-beom, head of the Pyeongchang Games organizing committee, said they would be open to the idea but indicated he would like to see a long-term plan in place rather than seeing a team formed in a matter of weeks, as happened this year.
Just weeks ahead of the opening ceremony, the two Koreas agreed to field a combined team for the Games, taking 12 players from the North and incorporating them into a squad along with the South’s 23-player roster.
“We had only two weeks to practice and prepare as a team,” Lee added. “That was too short to prepare for the Games. We will continue to discuss this issue about Beijing.
“I am very proud to see the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team. It is a symbol of peace and unity at the Olympic Games.
“Only sports can unify the people, beyond the politics, beyond the barriers, and putting players from North and South Korea on the same team was a very proud moment, one that is a true symbol of peace.
“When we had that match against Japan (a 4-1 loss) most of the Korean people remember only one goal. They forget about the four goals, and it (the unified team) will be remembered for decades to come.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)