North and South Korea To March Under Unified Flag at Winter Olympics in 2018

North and South Korea To March Under Unified Flag at Winter Olympics in 2018

North and South Korea have agreed to form a joint Olympic team and March together during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This will be the first time they’ve ever marched under a “unified” flag in over a decade. According to The New York Times:

“The North will send 230 supporters to the Games, and negotiators agreed that supporters of both Koreas would root together for athletes from both countries…

North and South Koreans cheering together could help President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who has been pushing for dialogue and reconciliation with the North… South Korean officials said on Wednesday that the North’s delegation would include at least 550 people, including about 150 to the Paralympic Games in March. But the joint news statement said that the final number would be determined in Switzerland on Saturday.”

North Korea officials left for Europe earlier to week to talks with the International Olympic Committee and hash out all the details. Unfortunately, while the joint-teams may help Korean relations, some analyst say the combined hockey team could hurt South Korea’s chances for a medal.

Not everyone was excited about the announcement. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told Reuters: “It is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea. The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.

While North Korea skipped the Winter Olympics in Sochi two years ago, they did appear at the 2016 games in Rio, winning gold medals in women’s weightlifting and Men’s vault. These sorts of international competitions can be tricky for North Korea, as athletes have previously used the games as an opportunity to defect. As we mentioned in 2015, the nation now works tirelessly to prevent that:

“Minders are assigned to monitor all of the athletes and their schedules are subject to rigorous oversight… [they] have extreme punishments for those who defect. The State Security Department punishes the families of defectors, often sending them to concentration camps. This practice has been documented for years, but North Korean official refuse to comment on any of their protocols. “

The games begin on Feb. 9; the first combined Korean team will be the women’s ice-hockey squad.