North Korean athletes crossed the border into South Korea yesterday, one of the first steps in an experiment of sports diplomacy that will play out on live television in a few weeks.
Twelve players will join the South Korean women’s hockey team at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, which begins in less than two weeks. An idea proposed by the South, unifying the two countries’ teams was an unexpected move, at a time of heightened nuclear tensions.
While the unified team makes for pleasant photo-ops of players exchanging flowers and practicing together, experts doubt that cooperation on the ice signifies a more meaningful thaw military, political or economic relations.
All in all, the joint team could put South Korea on precarious political footing. While sports can act as a diplomatic catalyst, “they cannot alter the fundamental political calculus,” Kim Sung Han, the former senior South Korean diplomat, said. “The best-case scenario would be this leading to high-level summit talks … multilateral dialogue for the denuclearization of North Korea. But I’m pessimistic.”
North Korean players were photographed crossing the border yesterday, Jan. 25, and later today were seen in practice.