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Sports

Korea's united ice hockey team loses warm-up match against Sweden

media Sarah Ruth Murray (centre), the South Korea coach and her North Korean counterpart Pak Chol-ho (right) have had to combine the talents from both teams for the Olympic Games which start on 9 February. Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji

Angry demonstrators stamped on a picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as a joint North and South Korean women's ice hockey team came together for the first time on Sunday in a practice match.

The unified team for the Pyeongchang Olympics is a product of a deal between the two countries following a year of tension over North Korea’s nuclear arms programme.

The side, wearing blue and red uniforms with KOREA emblazoned across their chests, lost 3-1 to Sweden at the Seonhak International Ice Rink in Incheon in front of 3,000 fans.

The addition of North Korean players has provoked controversy in South Korea. Authorities have been accused of depriving some of its own players of the chance to compete at a home Olympics for political purposes.

Outside the arena, security was tight as protesters faced off with supporters of the joint team. Those in favour of the North Korean presence chanted: "Peace Olympics", while just across the road, others shouted: "Pyongyang Olympics," suggesting North Korea had been allowed to hijack the Pyeongchang Games.

"As a coach, it is hard to tell some of your players that you have been with for quite a long time that they are not going to be able to play, but the whole situation is out of our control. So we are trying to make the best out of it," said Sarah Murray, South Korea's coach.

"There are a lot of challenges with adding players so close to the Olympics. "Language is different. The meeting takes three times as long. It's really hard when you have three different languages in one team," she added, referring to the marked differences between the North Korean and South Korean dialects.

However, North Korean coach Pak Chol-Ho, was more upbeat. "Throughout this game, I felt acutely that nothing is impossible if the North and South become one and do it together," he said. "I hope that we can gather our hearts and mind together in the short while and pull out a good outcome."

Twelve North Koreans joined the southerners on 25 January. The warm-up game against Sweden is the only match the united team will play before competition starts on 9 February.

Since the division of the peninsula in 1953, the two Koreas have only competed as unified teams in 1991, when their women won the team gold at the world table tennis championship in Japan, and their under-19 footballers reached the world championship quarter-finals in Portugal.

 "The North Korean players try hard to adjust to our system so there are no big difficulties," said South Korean player Park Jong-Ah.

North Korea's Jong Su-Hyon added: "I believe that we can achieve a good outcome at every game if the North and South's players gather strengths and minds together and run and run."

The Korean team will play Switzerland in their opening game on 10 February in Group B. They will also face Sweden and Japan.

 

 

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