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N. Korean soccer team coming to Incheon

Posted January. 22, 2014 08:25,   


Pyongyang announced that it would send its men’s and women’s soccer teams for the Asian Games to be held in Incheon from Sept. 19 through Oct. 14. It is good news that it finally said it would play the Games after long silence despite the efforts of Incheon City and the Asian Games Committee to persuade it. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will send soccer teams or play in other events until the notification deadline on June 20.

South Korea’s national anthem was played and its national flag was raised for the first time in North Korea’s official event at Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Indoor Stadium in Pyongyang on Sept. 14, 2013. South Korea’s Kim Woo-sik and Lee Young-gun won a gold medal and a silver medal, respectively, at the World Heavyweight Championship. North Korean spectators looked awkward but applauded to the winners. Pyongyang promised that it would hold an awards ceremony in compliance with international practice if South Korean players win a gold medal. This signaled a change in sports under the new leader Kim Jong Un.

Ri Sol Ju, Kim’s wife, visited Incheon as a member of a student cheering squad for the Asian Athletics Championships held in Incheon in September 2005. The squad consisted of 101 female students who are beautiful and good at singing and dancing. She sang songs such as “A flower-viewing picnic.” North Korea also drew attention when it sent a large group of players with a group of beautiful girls for cheering in the 2002 Busan Asian Games. Sport exchanges contribute largely to the reconciliation and mutual understanding between the two Koreas.

Kim is known to have a great interest in sports such as basketball and be a man of guts. This is why he invited Dennis Rodman, a former NBA player, to Pyongyang. North Korea’s decision to play at the Asian Games is in line with Kim’s announcement to improve inter-Korean relations in the New Year’s remark and the National Defense Commissions’ “important proposal” to stop propaganda offensives to each other. Since it can be part of a camouflaged peace offensive, Seoul should be thoroughly prepared. Nevertheless, the South Korean government should increase inter-Korean exchanges on the non-political humanitarian front.

Editorial Writer Han Ki-heung (eligius@donga.com)