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(Olympics) Supporters, opponents of joint Korean hockey team assemble before 1st game

All Headlines 17:23 February 04, 2018

INCHEON, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- Supporters and opponents of the joint Korean women's ice hockey team both assembled outside the venue for the squad's first game on Sunday.

The Korean team is scheduled to face Sweden at 6 p.m. at Seonhak International Ice Rink in Incheon, just west of Seoul.

The joint team was formed under an inter-Korean agreement reached last month. On Jan. 20, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave its final stamp of approval and added 12 North Korean players to the 23-deep South Korean team.

Only 22 players -- 20 skaters and two goaltenders -- can play in each Olympic game, and head coach Sarah Murray, South Korea's bench boss, must use at least three North Korean players per game.

Top: A group of university students assemble in support of the joint Korean women's hockey team on Feb. 4, 2018, in front of Seonhak International Ice Rink in Incheon, where the team was to play Sweden in its first game. Below: Opponents of the joint team tear off the North Korean national flag in protest, also near the rink. (Yonhap)

The joint hockey team, the first of its kind in any Olympic Games, has divided the South Korean public.

Its supporters said bringing athletes together is a step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. Its opponents criticized the government for hastily pushing the idea through without prior consultation with South Korean athletes and said homegrown athletes are being unfairly asked to sacrifice their playing opportunities for North Koreans.

A few hours before the puck drop on Sunday, about 200 college students gathered in support of the unified team and welcomed the North Korean athletes to South Korea. They waved the Korean Unification Flag, which has a blue Korean Peninsula against a white background, outside the rink.

Across the street, about 150 members of conservative groups held their own protest, and some tore off the North Korean national flag, the Korean Unification Flag and photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

There were no clashes between the two groups, with police force present.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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