SOUTH Korea’s flag flew in Pyongyang on Friday as the women’s football teams of both nations clashed in the first ever competitive football match between the two to be hosted by the north.
The historic match came out a draw with each side getting just one goal each, but the symbolism of the match is perhaps more important than the result.
The only previous encounter between the two rivals in Pyongyang occurred in 1990 when the men’s team met in a 2-1 victory for the North. The match was set up as a pro-unification effort that saw both teams flying a flag showing the entire Korea peninsula and their different national anthems were not played.
It was the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK), as the North is officially known, reluctance to see the South Korea flag flying on its territory that was the reason behind the extended break between matches.
The match comes as tensions flare between the two countries following repeated missile tests from the North and military war-games being conducted by the South and the US.
Repeated provocations from the DPRK and its progressing nuclear ambitions have placed it firmly at the top of the agenda for US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping as they meet today at Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The US president proclaimed recently that the US is willing to take action against the North should provocations continue and that all options are “on the table” when it comes to dealing with the rogue nation.
The North and the South are technically still at conflict as the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty. And the DPRK still holds the ability to destroy Seoul at a moments notice using artillery buried in the mountains just north of the Demilitarised Zone, a remnant of the Korean War.
But the Group B qualifier for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup offers a rare chance for a moment of detente between the two.
Sporting links “have eased anxieties during times of escalating tensions” Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Culture Exchange, which facilitates exchanges in multiple fields with the North, told AFP (via The Sun Daily).
Koreans on either side of the border tend to back each other’s teams when they play other countries.
When Koreans from both sides of the divide meet, said Spavor, there is “genuine curiosity… and even a little bit of anxiety which creates a kind of tension”.
But at sports events participants “get lost in the moment”, he told AFP. “Many athletes realise afterwards how special an experience it was and they can naturally get a bit emotional.”
The football match comes after the two countries’ women’s ice hockey teams played in Gangneung, in the South, on Thursday, with the hosts winning 3-0.