Around 5,800 spectators attended an ice hockey match between the South Korean and North Korean women’s national ice hockey teams on Thursday night, held at the Gangneung Hockey Center in Gangneung, South Korea.
One cheering squad consisting of around 500 South Koreans, who cheered both the DPRK and ROK teams and held up Korean Unification Flags bearing the image of the Korean Peninsula.
No one was seen waving either North Korean or South Korean national flags, with only scores of people wearing hair bands carrying South Korean flags.
The South Korean Committee for the Joint Implementation of the June 15 Summit Declaration organized the joint cheering squad, which chanted messages like, “We Are The One!”, “United Nation!” and “Go Korea!” throughout the game.
The sound of South Koreans singing the famous North Korean song “Nice to Meet You” filled the Gangneung Hockey Center.
“All of the compatriots as well as brothers and sisters, I am glad that we meet like this,” hundreds of South Koreans sang together.
People of different age groups, from elementary school students to the older generation, applauded the DPRK team.
Standing representative chairman of the committee Lee Chang-bok – who hopes for a “thaw” in inter-Korean relations – said singing a North Korean song in the South could help the “process of developing inter-Korean relations.”
“We hope that the ice hockey match would be a meaningful opportunity to recover the [cultural] homogeneity of North and South Korea,” Lee told NK News.
The committee was established in 2005, five years after the late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il announced the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration at the first inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang back in June 2000.
“The South and North Korean Committees for the Joint Implementation of the June 15 Summit Declaration had a meeting on February 7 and 8 in Shenyang of China and agreed that the two Koreas should cheer each other if a sports event is held,” Lee said.
“I asked myself why we have to live apart although our names and faces are same”
HOPES FOR UNIFICATION
The sports match between the ROK and the DPRK came at a difficult time: inter-Korean relations have been exceptionally strained in recent months.
Most of the audience told NK News it was their first time seeing North Koreans, but said they feel no sense of heterogeneity – despite 72 years having passed since the division of the two Koreas.
A 30-year-old, Mr. Kang, said that he felt the South and the North “should become the same country at some future date” after watching the match.
“I saw North Koreans – who I could see in the mass media and news – in the flesh, but I feel…,” Kang’s voice broke with emotion. “It is very difficult for me to put it into words.”
22-year-old Kwon Jae-yong, clad in a pro-unification hoodie bearing the mark of the Korean Peninsula, believed the match between the South and the North was an “overwhelming moment” and said he wanted to be in a “place where the North and South Koreans were together.”
“I saw the name tag of the North Korean athletes while cheering. What makes me feel sad and a little bit bitter is the fact that they have Korean names and some of them have the same names as my friends,” Kwon told NK News.
“So I asked myself why we have to live apart although our names and faces are same.”
Along with around 30 friends of the same age, Kwon said he had traveled all the way from Busan in the southern part of Korea to Gangneung, which lies approximately 66 miles from the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
“But there are so many young people who believe that unification is unnecessary and have no interest in the North Korean issue,” Kwon said.
The majority of the audience was older than Kwon and his friends, and there was a marked difference in attitudes from generation to generation.
“North Koreans have a very thin frame when you see the pictures, but I now think that they are the same people with us,” 25-year-old Kim Hye-jung told NK News. “But I still support the South Korean team.”
When asked whether Kim had changed her opinion on the necessity of unification after watching the match, she said: “half-and-half.”
“I wanted to run and hug them”
“I believe many feel the same as me if they are educated in the South: the North Korean players are not as thin as I thought they would be,” 31-year-old Cho Seong-rae said.
16-year-old Kim Min-seok said he came to see the ice hockey match with his family after watching “Run Off,” in which a South Korean ice hockey player meets her sister from the North at the match.
“I feel something of a novelty as I’ve never seen North Koreans before, but I don’t think we are much different because they are the same people with South Koreans,” Kim said. “But I hope the South wins the game.”
58-year-old Ham Yeong-gi, who also wore the hoodie of the Korean Peninsula, said he was “deeply moved” by the match.
“We can’t live like this forever, fighting each other… I wanted to run and hug them,” Ham told NK News, thinking back on the moment when he saw the South and North Korean teams facing each other before the match.
“I have been forced to accept an ideology until now, but they (the North Koreans) are just players who are enjoying the game together,” he said.
“I think it is meaningful that we become one when the South and North Korean athletes mingle and play the game together – they are transcending nationality and ideology.”
Ham said the two Koreas should “find a chance to reconcile and achieve the unification through sport, music, as well as cultural and academic exchanges.”
52-year-old Hong Gye-ja, who attended the match with seven friends wearing headbands carrying South Korean national flags, said they “felt their hearts swell,” describing the inter-Korean match as “very cheerful and enjoyable”.
“I saw the North Korean players romping around at Gyeongpodae Pavilion in the news. I feel that we are of one mind and live under the same roof,” Hong told NK News. “I do not think we are not a heterogeneous ethnic group. We look alike.”
“I liked the moment when North Korean players responded to us yelling out a cheer,” Hong, who supported both teams, said.
“I hope this kind of game will be held more frequently in the future, so all of us can be united and continue to cheer [the South and North Korean teams]. And we can eventually achieve unification, which is what we all want.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG)
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