By Karolos Grohmann
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – A unified women’s ice hockey team from North and South Korea at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is not just political window-dressing, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday.
The two Koreas, still technically at war since a 1953 armistice, have resumed talks after a year-long standoff between North Korea and the United States where an exchange of threats between the heads of state elevated tensions and prompted the North’s continued missile and nuclear tests.
The North, however, has agreed with South Korea to send 22 athletes and a 230-strong cheering squad to the Winter Games starting on Friday.
Twelve of those athletes will compete as part of a unified women’s ice hockey team in what is the strongest gesture of Olympic cooperation between the two countries in years.
“I really believe in the Olympic spirit,” Bach told reporters when asked whether the joint Korea team was a PR move or if there was political substance.
“These athletes and many million other people, they will believe in this gesture and the athletes are going to show it,” said Bach, adding he knew the feeling of division having competed as a fencer at the 1976 Summer Olympics for what was then West Germany.
The two nations will also be marching together at Friday’s opening ceremony for the first time at the Games since the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
Bach said the members of the unified team were getting along well and had jointly also celebrated the birthday of one of the players.
“The team is coming together,” he said. “Everything is coming together and hopefully it will stay together and everybody will respect this Olympic truce resolution (of the United Nations) and show here that these Games should be beyond political tensions.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister — Kim Yo Jong — will make her debut on the world stage at the opening ceremony and will become the first member of the Kim family to cross the border to the South. The Games run from Feb 9-25.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Christian Radnedge)