Asian Games 2018: North Korean athletes arrive in Seoul as pre-tournament preparations begin for historic joint teams

Seoul: North Korean athletes arrived in the South on Sunday for joint training ahead of the Asian Games next month, the latest effort at rare cross-border sports diplomacy.

 Asian Games 2018: North Korean athletes arrive in Seoul as pre-tournament preparations begin for historic joint teams

The North Korean athletes will begin training with their South Korean counterparts in a week's time. AP

The two Koreas agreed last month to field joint teams in three sports — canoeing, rowing and women's basketball — at the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang from 18 August to 2 September. Dressed in matching light blue outfits, the delegation of 34 athletes and coaches landed at Incheon International Airport via Beijing.

Their exact schedules have yet to be determined but the North Koreans are expected to begin training with their South Korean teammates next week. It is the first time North and South Korea have formed unified teams to compete at the Asian Games.

The two countries — which are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty — will also march together at the opening and closing ceremonies in Indonesia. The move follows an agreement between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South's president Moon Jae-in at their summit in April.

Sporting cooperation helped spark the current diplomatic thaw between the two Koreas after the North sent a high-level delegation and athletes to the Winter Olympics held in the South in February. Diplomatic efforts have gathered pace since then, leading to a landmark summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June. Indonesia president Joko Widodo formally invited the Korean leaders to the Asian Games, although it is unclear if either has responded.

The two Koreas formed their first-ever unified Olympic team — a joint women's ice hockey squad — for February's games in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang. The idea for a joint team initially sparked a backlash in the South on the grounds that Seoul was depriving its own athletes of the chance to compete. Ultimately, the sight of North and South Korean players wearing the same jerseys drew emotive responses from spectators and the squad quickly became an Olympic favourite despite being thrashed in all its matches.

Earlier this month, a group of 50 South Korean basketball players visited Pyongyang for friendly matches, and a team of North Koreans will be in Seoul in the autumn for another round.

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Updated Date: Jul 29, 2018 16:09:47 IST