IOC endorses joint march by Korean athletes
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- Athletes from the two Koreas are set to march together at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Games in a powerful symbol of the divided peninsula's hopes for reunification.
The International Olympic Committee executive board on Friday accepted a proposal by the North Koreans to drop the two national flags from the ceremony, leaving the athletes to parade as one under the Olympic flag only.
This will be the first time the two Koreas have marched together at the Olympics. The athletes will continue to compete during the games for their respective nations, with their own flags and anthems.
"This is to show the will of the two countries to be unified," IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch said.
Samaranch sent letters to the leaders of both countries before last month's historic summit between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, the capital of the communist North.
Samaranch proposed that all Korean athletes march jointly under the Olympic flag, which would be followed by the flags of each country. South Korea quickly accepted the proposal.
The head of the North Korean national Olympic Committee, Pak Myong Chol, responded Thursday in a letter to Samaranch, saying he didn't see the need for the two national flags since the countries' ultimate goal is unification.
"The executive board sent a letter this morning to North Korea saying maybe his idea is a good idea, and to have only one flag, the Olympic flag," Samaranch said, adding that the South Koreans had already agreed.
Samaranch has also proposed that the Korean athletes all wear the same "neutral" uniforms during the ceremony. But he said Friday that may not be possible.
"We have to go problem by problem," he said. "The problem is the flag. If we can solve this problem, I think it is the most important."
Players from the two Koreas played five table tennis matches Friday in Pyongyang -- the first sports exchange since the summit.
The Koreas remain technically in a state of war because their three-year conflict in the early 1950s ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
North Korea, long one of the world's most reclusive and isolationist states, has begun opening up the outside world in recent months.
Kim Un-yong, a South Korean member of the IOC executive board who traveled to Pyongyang for the summit, said the Korean athletes will number around 500 in the Sydney ceremony. The vast majority will be South Koreans.
"We are all working together through dialogue and cooperation," Kim said. "Now we are all looking forward to unification eventually. This is a very symbolic expression of being together as the same people."
Kim said he hoped the two Koreas will be able to field a joint team for the 2004 Athens Olympics, as well as the next Asian Games, World Cup soccer tournament and University Games.
"There just wasn't enough time to field a joint team in Sydney," Kim said. "All the qualifications were over. But there will certainly be time for Athens."
The two Koreas fielded single teams at the world table tennis championships and world youth soccer championship in 1990. Since then, there had been no further sports exchanges between the two sides because of political and military tensions.