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Sports set to play bigger role in improving inter-Korean relations

All News 12:00 July 02, 2017

SEJONG, July 2 (Yonhap) -- Inter-Korean cooperation in sports may play a bigger role in breaking the current deadlock on the Korean Peninsula, stemming from a recent series of missile launches and nuclear tests carried out by Pyongyang, a report said Sunday.

"Within the realm of social and cultural exchange between the two Koreas, only sports has survived the strained relations," Kim Dong-sun, a professor from Kyonggi University, said in a report published by the state-run Korea Development Institute. "Sports exchanges have often led to breakthroughs in inter-Korean relations."

The two Koreas, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War, have kept in touch in the sports sector despite ups and downs in politics and military tensions for decades.

North Korea detonated two nuclear devices in 2016 and fired off numerous missiles despite warnings by the international community.

The countries marched together at the opening ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the Koreas competed as one at the World Table Tennis Championships in 1999. North Korea sent a group of supporters to the Asian Games in Busan in 2002 and Incheon in 2014.

Since 2008, when the conservative Lee Myung-bak government took office, nearly all Seoul-Pyongyang talks to form a joint team in world sporting events have made no headway amid frosty inter-Korean ties.

Kim, however, noted that sports can be an icebreaker as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un focuses on fostering sports as a tool to promote nationalism and heighten the regime's status at home and abroad.

The North Korean government has allowed its national team to visit the South, and vice versa, with the national anthem of South Korea being played in the North.

Recently, North Korea's female ice hockey team visited South Korea in April to compete at a test event for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, while the South Korean women's national football team held a game with their North Korean counterparts in Pyongyang.

"South Korea should make broader contact with the North in various sport fields," the professor pointed out. "It has to make more efforts to get Pyongyang to participate in international sporting events that can allow the isolationist country to break out of the current impasse."

South Korea's national flag is held at a qualifier of the 2018 Women's Asian Cup between South Korea and North Korea at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang on April 7, 2017. (Yonhap)


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