As the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea commenced, many headlines centered around North Korea, concerning their involvement with the Olympic Games and the safety of the Korean peninsula.
However, on Sat., Feb. 10, North Korean and South Korean women’s hockey players took the ice: not as opponents, but as one team.
Canadian-born coach Sarah Murray had carefully selected her roster of 23 South Koreans. However, less than a month before the games, she was told to add 12 more players to her roster, all from North Korea.
“I didn’t ever anticipate this happening,” said Murray after the team’s first game against Switzerland.
The unified Korean team faced numerous obstacles, such as a language barrier and team chemistry. Being a Canadian coach, Murray’s commands must be translated into Korean. However, with almost 70 years of separation, two different dialects of Hangul, the Korean language, separated North and South Korean, so they use different hockey terms, and the extra translations required eat up the already short practice time. For example, most South Koreans say “윙” (wing) when referencing the wing player, whereas North Koreans say “날개수” (nalgaesu).
“Communication has been an issue,” says South Korean player Randi Griffin.
In their first game, Switzerland destroyed Korea 8-0. Despite the demoralizing loss, team unity is strengthening in the locker room.
“I’ll walk into the locker room and they’re all laughing together,” Murray said. “You can’t tell who is from the North and who’s from the South. They’re just girls playing hockey.”
Away from the action, over 200 North Korean cheerleaders rallied behind the team waving white flags and banners with a blue unified Korean peninsula in the middle. After the game, they continued to sing traditional Korean songs, alongside hundreds of South Korean spectators.
“This is very amazing,” said South Korean spectator Sekyung Lee. “Seeing this team makes me so, so happy.”
Outside from the Olympics games, Kim Jong-Un’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, met South Korean president Moon Jae-in, signifying the first time that a member of the ruling family in Korea crossed the border into South Korea.
Even though many are jubilant about this unified team, others remain skeptical of North Korea’s intentions. Hundreds of anti-North Korea advocators protested in Seoul, waving South Korean and American flags.
While North Korea and South Korea are still at war and unification does not seem likely in the near future, the united Korean women’s hockey team is a step towards diplomacy and may affect the future for both Koreas.