Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan last month suggested assembling a South-North joint women's squad for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games south of the border. Do's rationale was that the all-Korean team would help promote peace on the divided peninsula.
The idea was quickly met with criticism, since a few of the South Korean players would have to abandon their Olympic dreams for those from North Korea, which didn't even compete in the qualifying tournament.
At the national team media day event at the National Training Center in Seoul, Chung Mong-won, president of the Korea Ice Hockey Association, said his primary goal was to protect his players.
"No sport federation should exist unless it can protect its athletes," Chung said at a press conference, held with the countdown to PyeongChang 2018 reaching 200 days next Monday. "As of now, nothing has been set in stone. But whatever happens, we'll come up with plans to protect our athletes and let the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation know."
|In this file photo, taken on April 7, 2017, players from both South Korea and North Korea pose for group pictures after their game at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament at Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (Yonhap)|
Chung added, however, that the national team will follow whatever decision the government reaches, saying, "We have to think of the nation's big picture."
Sarah Murray, the women's head coach, admitted her players seemed "a little distracted" at first when the news broke, but it's an issue that neither she nor anyone on the team can control.
"I understand the players' concern because they've been on this team for so long. To have someone come in and maybe potentially take their spot doesn't seem very fair," she said. "But we're trying to focus on what we can control. We'll deal with it when it happens. We've been assured that we can protect our players."
Han Soo-jin, the women's captain, said the players have faith in the KIHA to provide the promised protection, and that their job is to stay focused on the task at hand.
"I don't think whatever we say changes anything," she said. "Our job is to do the best we can in our current position."
Another risk with a possible joint team is that it would almost certainly disrupt the team chemistry. Logistics would also cause some headaches, too. The South Korean team has scheduled camps in France in August and the United States in September, and team officials will somehow find ways to fit North Korean players into these schedules, if it comes to that.
With that in mind, Murray said, "If it is to happen, I hope it happens soon so we can work through the trouble with team chemistry and other issues." (Yonhap)