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[Newsmaker] Basketball kicks off inter-Korean sports exchange

The inter-Korean basketball event held in Pyongyang is fueling hopes for further sports exchanges between the two Koreas.

Basketball was chosen as the first inter-Korean sporting event since the April 27 summit due to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s love of the sport. 

South Korean and North Korean basketball players during Wednesday`s match. Yonhap
South Korean and North Korean basketball players during Wednesday`s match. Yonhap

Following the summit, Cheong Wa Dae revealed that Kim suggested beginning inter-Korean sporting events with basketball rather than soccer during the summit dinner.

The two Koreas have also agreed to field a joint women’s basketball team in the upcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.

“(President Moon Jae-in) showed much interest in the basketball games held as part of the Panmumjeom Declaration,” Seoul’s Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said in a meeting with the North’s Kim Yong-chol on Thursday.

Kim Yong-chol, one of North Korea’s most powerful figures who serves as vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, was sent by Kim Jong-un to meet Cho in his stead. According to Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean leader had heard that there were some hopes for his presence at the games, and suggested that he meet with the South’s delegation.

The basketball games, held Wednesday and Thursday, were organized as part of the two sides’ efforts to put the Panmumjeom Declaration into action. For the two-day event, South Korea sent a 101-strong delegation including 50 male and female athletes.

The event was the first of its kind since 2003. The inter-Korean basketball friendlies started in 1999, when two events were held in Seoul and Pyongyang. Although the two sides had agreed to hold the event annually, the games were discontinued after the third event held in Pyongyang in 2003.

Although Kim Jong-un did not watch the games in person, he is said to have watched the event on television, and ordered his aides to pay special attention to the games.

According to Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean leader was on an official engagement outside of Pyongyang.

Kim Yong-chol also revealed that the North Korean leader was closely involved in setting the “general flow of the event.” He said that introducing the athletes and playing South Korean music at the games were Kim Jong-un’s ideas.

Kim Yong-chol also revealed that Pyongyang plans to participate in table tennis and shooting competitions held in the South.

By Choi He-suk (