Gangneung (South Korea), Feb 19 (IANS) Ice hockey’s global governing body said on Monday that it will consider keeping the joint Korean women’s team for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), said at a press conference that he feels “very, very happy” about how the unified team has come together to represent peace at the ongoing PyeongChang Winter Olympics, reported Yonhap news agency.
Asked if the IIHF will try to keep the two Koreas together in women’s hockey, Fasel said, “Why not?”
“I think that’d be a very good operation to do until 2022 to still keep the joint team in Beijing and have this unified team as a message of peace,” Fasel said at the Gangneung Hockey Centre.
The Koreas reached a landmark agreement in mid-January to combine their women’s hockey teams for the first Winter Olympics to take place in South Korea. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the deal on January 20, and five days later, with the start of the Olympics about two weeks away, 12 North Korean players joined 23 South Koreans for the unprecedented joint team.
The Koreas have fielded joint teams in table tennis and youth football at world championships before but have never had a combined team in any sport at any Olympics prior to PyeongChang 2018.
South Korea came into the Olympics ranked 22nd in the world, three spots above North Korea. And the joint team has been overmatched on the ice, losing its three preliminary games to Switzerland, Sweden and Japan by a combined 1-20. But Korea held its own in a rematch against Switzerland in their classification match Sunday, only losing by 0-2.
Despite these losses, Korea has been the darling of the tournament, drawing about 15,000 fans combined over its four games.
Fasel spoke of “many, many political obstacles” that had to be cleared before the teams could be brought together. And he also took his time to thank Sarah Murray, head coach of the South Korean team who was put in charge of the combined squad, for her hard work.
“Poor girl: She was not so happy in the beginning because adding 12 players for her was not so easy,” Fasel said. “But now, the team is coming together.”
Accompanying Fasel to the press conference, Lee Hee-beom, head of PyeongChang’s Olympic organizing committee, said he was “proud” to see the unified Korean team on the ice, no matter how much trouble it experienced on the ice.
“It’s a symbol of a peace Olympic Games. Only sports can unify people beyond politics, beyond any type of barriers,” Lee said.
“Putting athletes from South and North Korea on the same team was a very proud moment, one that was a true sign of peace. This is what the Olympics is about: peace, unity and sportsmanship.”
Lee credited Fasel with initiating the project to launch the joint Korean team a few years ago. Fasel himself thanked Lee for his support and insisted the realization of the unified team took some great teamwork.