Seoul (AFP) – South Korea’s canoe federation said yesterday it has proposed forming a joint dragon boat team with North Korea, after the two nations agreed to compete together in some Asian Games events in a fresh show of rapprochement.
Officials from North and South said Monday they would form joint teams for certain sports at the Asiad in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18-September 2.
The move follows up an agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their summit in April.
The Korean Canoe Federation said it was in the final stages of preparing for a joint team in the dragon boat race, one of three canoe disciplines at the event.
“We expect to receive an answer from North Korea by early next month,” federation president Kim Yong-bin told reporters.
A delegation from the International Canoe Federation is due to travel to the North Korean capital in July and Mr Kim said joint training could take place in Seoul from mid-July.
The Olympic Council of Asia earlier dismissed the idea of granting extra places for unified Korean teams at the Asian Games, clouding the prospects of forming such teams in many sports.
When the two Koreas formed their first-ever unified Olympic team – a joint women’s ice hockey squad – for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February, there was criticism in Seoul that some South Korean players were being pushed out.
Mr Kim said neither country had full-time dragon boat paddlers and thus a joint team would not displace established athletes. It could also boost their medal chances.
“North Korea has strong female paddlers,” Mr Kim said. “If they compete in the dragon boat race, we could be a gold medal contender.”
If the team is successful, paddlers from North and South would also compete at the Dragon Boat World Championships in the US in September, Mr Kim added, which would send a “tremendous message of peace”.
The rapprochement began in February when Kim Jong Un sent athletes, cheerleaders and his sister as an envoy to the Winter Games in the South Korean alpine resort.
Diplomatic efforts have gathered pace since then, leading to a landmark summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore last week.