North and South Korea United in the Olympics?

North and South Korea United in the Olympics?

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South Korea, wearing white uniforms, and North Korean players compete during their IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division II Group A game in Gangneung, South Korea, April 6, 2017.

The South Korean public has been generally supportive of North Korea participating in the upcoming Olympics as a way to foster cooperation with its nuclear-armed neighbor, but they are divided over the decision to field a joint women’s hockey team that critics say places politics over competitive fairness.

According to a recent poll, more than 80 percent of South Koreans welcome the North’s decision to send a large delegation to the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in the South. But 70 percent of the public opposes the formation of a combined North, South team.

“I think it is not good. It feels like it is to show some kind of political result,” said Seoul resident Lee Hae-jun.

People pass by posters showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic mascots in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 17, 2018.
People pass by posters showing the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic mascots in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 17, 2018.

The decision Wednesday to add North Korean players to the South’s women’s hockey team, which has already qualified for the games, is seen by many as unfair to the players, who earned their positions.

And the South Korean hockey coach, Sarah Murray, earlier voiced concern it could leave the team at a competitive disadvantage.

“Adding somebody in so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous, just for team chemistry, because the girls have been together so long,” Murray said.

The International Olympic Committee and the National Olympic Committees of the two Koreas must agree to combining the women’s hockey teams before such a roster change can be made.

But for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the greater goal for this Olympics is to promote peace and eventually de-nuclearization with the isolated and repressive Kim Jong Un government.

“If the South and North form a united team and participate in the Olympic games, I think it will become a historic moment. Not only Koreans, but people from all over the world will be moved to see such a historic moment, and it will be a great start to resolve inter-Korean issues,” said President Moon while visiting Pyeongchang Olympics sites this week.