SEOUL: North and South Korea agreed Monday to form unified teams for some sports at the upcoming Asian Games — a move which highlights the rapprochement on the peninsula that began with the Winter Olympics.
At their historic summit in April, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had agreed to joint participation in “international sports events such as the 2018 Asian Games”.
Officials from the two Koreas met at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Monday and reached several agreements aimed at strengthening sporting ties.
“The South and the North agreed to march together at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 Asian Games… and to form joint teams for certain sports,” said a joint Seoul-Pyongyang statement released by the South’s sports ministry.
The games will be held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and in Palembang from August 18 to September 2.
The athletes from the Koreas will march under a neutral Korean peninsula flag and under the “Korea” name, the statement said.
They will also hold a friendly basketball match — proposed by Kim, a fan of the sport, at his summit with Moon — in Pyongyang on July 4 and another in Seoul in the autumn.
“The South and the North will continue to form unified teams for other international sporting events… while holding joint training to strengthen inter-Korea cooperation and exchanges,” said the statement.
The two Koreas formed their first-ever unified Olympic team — a joint women’s ice hockey squad — for February’s games in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.
The idea for a joint team initially sparked a backlash in the South on the grounds that Seoul was depriving its own athletes of the chance to compete.
Ultimately, the sight of North and South Korean players wearing the same jerseys drew emotive responses from spectators and the squad quickly became an Olympic favourite despite being thrashed in all its matches.
The rapprochement on the Korean peninsula was triggered earlier this year when Kim decided to send athletes, cheerleaders and his sister as an envoy to the Pyeongchang Games.
Diplomatic efforts have gathered pace since then, leading to a landmark summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore last week.