Madian Estela, Staff Writer
Making history, there were 12 ice hockey athletes that made their way from The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) into the Republic of Korea (ROK) where they joined new teammates for the upcoming Olympics. Many see this as an effort to lessen the political tension between the two countries.
These athletes met for the first time, on Jan. 25, to begin practice as a joint team for the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next week. Ranked 22 in the world, South Korean athletes and coaches have voiced their concerns since July, when the idea of a joint team was first addressed.
The South Korean's coach, Sarah Murray, a Canadian, has expressed concerns about adding new players so close to the Olympics. “[It] is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long," she said.
Regardless of these fears, Seoul is hoping to see this event as the “peace Olympics.” Officials on both sides are wanting communication between the two countries to increase throughout this event and improve relations. Sports have always been a common ground where opposing sides can come together in the spirit of competition on the court, rather than the battlefield.
Mark A. Roeder, the associate professor of political science at North Greenville University and Olympic enthusiast, explained, “Because it’s [the Olympics] bringing countries together, it’s hard to keep politics out.” It seems that sports are a medium allowing for moments like these to happen, but there always seems to be a lingering smell of political tension.
The Executive Secretary of North Korea's Olympic Committee, Han Ho Chul, met with NBC News, and in an interview expressed that “They [the Women’s ice hockey team] will work together fine," and will be ready to take on their opponents in the rink against Switzerland on Feb. 10.
The women are already sharing the same locker rooms. Murray is also getting to know the new athletes from the DPRK through practices just for them. Murray will be given the task to select at least three players from the DPRK athletes for the team for each match.
It will be an intense learning experience for all athletes as they begin to work together as a team. The DPRK has agreed to send a 550-member delegation to the momentous event. The group will include 230 cheerleaders and a 30-strong taekwondo delegation.
The Korean War ended in 1953 in an armistice instead of a peace treaty. This means that the two countries are still officially at war and have the most heavily guarded border on the planet. Their participation in the Olympics and their joint women’s hockey team is a historical moment.
As game day approaches, try to remember that “[the] Olympics is a spectacle of sports, regardless of the peripheral stuff going on,” according to Roeder. The Olympics is our chance to see the beauty of other cultures, to learn from one another and to find new ways to connect with the love of sports.