Joint Korean women’s hockey team take to ice

Team loses 3-1 to Sweden ahead of participation in Winter Olympics

IThe athletes of Team Korea stand in line after their friendly match against Sweden at Seonhak International Ice Rink. Photograph: Woohae Cho/Getty Images

IThe athletes of Team Korea stand in line after their friendly match against Sweden at Seonhak International Ice Rink. Photograph: Woohae Cho/Getty Images

 

South Korean fans chanting “we are one” and wearing shirts with the unification flag packed into a freezing ice hockey arena on Sunday to cheer on the joint Korean women’s team in a tune-up for this month’s Winter Olympics.

North and South Korea agreed last month to field a combined women’s ice hockey team and march together under one flag in Pyeongchang after a new round of talks amid a thaw in cross-border relations.

With some 3,000 fans packed into Seonhak International Ice Rink in Incheon, the Koreans, who have only practiced together for a week, lost 3-1 to Sweden.

Although the result was a disappointment, hopes are high that the unified team could help improve ties.

Although the reaction to the North’s decision to participate in the Winter Games was met warmly in the South, the decision to form a combined women?s ice hockey team sparked a public backlash.

Critics said adding North Korean players to the South’s roster at the last minute would mean missed opportunities for home players and could hurt team chemistry.

“As a coach, it is hard to tell some of your players that you have been with for a quite a long time that they are not going be able to play, but the whole situation is out of our control. So we are trying to make the best out of it,” Sarah Murray, the head coach of the team, told a news conference after the game.

“There are a lot of challenges with adding players so close to the Olympics,” she said, adding that the language barrier was a real problem.

“The meeting takes three times as long. It’s really hard when you have three different languages on one team,” the Canadian said.

Both sets of players speak Korean, but the language has evolved differently in the North and South.

The International Olympic Committee said 12 North Korea players would join the South’s 23-player squad. The game day roster will continue to be 22 and the team has to include at least three North Koreans.

The North will also send athletes to take part in figure skating, short track speed skating, cross-country and Alpine skiing at the February 9th-25th Games.

The controversy has hit the popularity of South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who hoped that the upcoming Olympics would pave the way for a breakthrough in resolving North Korea’s nuclear issue.

Ahead of the game, conservative groups held protests and tore up a North Korean flag. They called for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to step down.–Reuters