North and South Korean athletes are set to march together at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony under a unified flag — a potential first for the two nations — following landmark talks over the past two weeks.
The countries have also agreed to form a joint North and South Korean women’s ice hockey team for the Games in Pyeongchang, which begin early next month, South Korea’s unification ministry said this week.
Officials from the International Olympic (IOC) Committee and Pyeongchang 2018 Organizing Committee must approve the two countries’ proposals before they can go ahead.
Those that affect competition, such as the joint hockey team, could be more complicated than the ceremonial proposals.
Opening Saturday’s meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, IOC President Thomas Bach said it was a “great moment” for the Olympic movement and an opportunity to build bridges.
Bach: Games ‘beyond all political tensions’
North Korea’s unexpected participation, negotiated in talks at the heavily fortified border between the two nations since the start of the year, has been hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough that could herald peace on the Korean peninsula.
However, others fear that South Korea has fallen for a North Korean charm offensive and warned the international community not to be complacent.
Bach said the IOC had been working to address the “special situation” of having the 2018 Winter Olympics on the Korean Peninsula for several years.
“We have always done so with our belief that the Olympic Games are beyond all political tensions,” he said. “In Olympic sport, we are all equal, regardless of where we come from or who we are: North and South, East and West, women and men, rivals and friends.”
Bach said he was confident that the talks could achieve a positive outcome.
“Our meeting today shows that Olympic sport always builds bridges. It never erects walls,” he said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 give everyone a real opportunity for a new beginning, to open the doors for a brighter future. We still have a long way to go on our journey, but today we are taking one more significant step together.”
Joint training proposed
The IOC has previously approved the two countries jointly participating in Olympic opening and closing ceremonies, something that happened during the Sydney Summer Games in 2000.
However, arrangements between the two Koreas that affect competition — such as the joint hockey team — could be trickier to resolve.
The South Korean unification ministry announced a range of joint activities between the countries for the Games, following talks Wednesday at the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
North and South Korean skiers will train together at a resort in North Korea before the Olympics start, and performers from the two countries will also hold a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang.
In addition to the athletes, an art troupe, a 30-strong North Korean Taekwondo demonstration team and a press corp will travel south, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung told reporters in Seoul.
A delegation of 150 North Korean athletes and supporters will attend the Paralympics, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.
An advance inspection team for the art troupe will travel from North Korea on Sunday, the ministry said Saturday. A day earlier, the ministry said North Korea had canceled the advance trip, then scheduled for Saturday, without an explanation.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said he did not rule out the possibility that a North Korean delegation could visit Moscow ahead of next month’s Games.
“I do not exclude contacts with a delegation from Pyongyang on inter-MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] channels in Moscow before the start of the Olympic Games,” Morgulov said in an interview with Russia’s state-run TASS news agency published Saturday.
Morgulov said that the main focus of any meetings would be on bilateral issues. He added that the recent talks between the two Koreas indicated that tensions would be reduced during the Winter Olympics.
“In our opinion, the direct dialogue that started between Seoul and Pyongyang, as well as the agreements that were reached during it, give grounds to believe that during the Olympic Games, the situation on the peninsula will be relatively stable,” Morgulov said.