International Ice Hockey Federation

Building bridges

Building bridges

Two Koreas come together on ice

Published 25.10.2017 01:06 GMT+11 | Author Adam Steiss
Building bridges
After the game Korea and DPR Korea players and team staff came together with IIHF President René Fasel and members of POCOG. Photo: Young-Chul Song
For three periods, ice hockey helped to cross one of the biggest political divides in the world, when Korea and DPR Korea hit the ice in Gangneung.

The two teams from the Korean Peninsula faced off on the fourth day of competition at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A, which along with the U18 Division IIA men’s tournament are serving as the test events for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments at the two Olympic ice hockey venues in Gangneung. 

The game was covered widely by national and international media, and drew a crowd of 5,800 spectators to the Gangneung Hockey Center, which will host the medal games next year. 

The President of the PyeongChang Organising Committee for the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) Mr. Lee Hee-beom and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel both came to Gangneung for the game, and took part in a ceremonial puck drop with the captains of both teams. 

“I think it was important to have this game take place for both teams and to the region as a whole. Sport has that ability to bring people together and with the Olympic Games on the horizon, I am happy that both of these teams had the chance to compete with each other,” said Fasel. “Without all the politics this is just a group of women playing ice hockey and having fun.” 

“In celebration of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, today’s game is a strong symbol of peace and the Olympic spirit. We are happy that a full venue of fans enjoyed this historic match in the host city of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games,” said POCOG President Lee. 

The game saw a 3-0 victory from Korea on the strength of two power-play goals in the first period from Sue Sie Jo and Ye Eun Park, and a 26-save shutout effort from goalie Do Hee Han. The last matchup between these two countries took place on year ago in Bled, Slovenia, when Korea won 4-1. Historically the DPR Korea women’s team had the upper hand such in the last game before Bled where it won 7-0 during the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia. 

“It was a good game for us. The last time we played them in Asia at the Challenge Cup of Asia they beat us by a lot so it was good to get a win here at home,” said Han. 

“I hope we get the chance to play them again soon.” 

The game took place on the 6th April, a fitting game day for these two neighbouring countries as it coincided with International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. As part of the worldwide campaign to promote the message of sport as a pathway to peace between nations, the two teams, both players and staff, came together after the game and posed with Fasel and members of POCOG holding the campaign’s trademark white cards. 

Before that the best player of the game for each team received their award from a representative from the other side of the ceasefire line. Mongwon Chung, the President of the Korea Ice Hockey Association, handed the prize to DPR Korea player Ok Jin, and Yong Song Mun, General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, handed the prize for the best player of the host team to Eunji Lee. 

“The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is an important milestone, not only within sport but more broadly around the world,” said Joel Bouzo, former pentathlete and president and Founder of Peace and Sport. 

“It is the day around which we anchor our #WhiteCard campaign and it serves as a reminder to all involved in sport about the positive impact we can have on the world, and our responsibility to create a better future for all.” 

Globally, more than 35,000 people were mobilised for the #WhiteCard campaign, which uses mainly athletes to spreading the message of sport is a vehicle for social change. 

“This was a highlight of the tournament,” said tournament chairwoman and IIHF Council Member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer. “After many discussions between DPR Korea and Korea, thank to our president, Rene Fasel, IIHF staff and many other great people on both sides, the North Korean team got the permission to participate at this very important event in South Korea. It was great to see, that the Gangneung Hockey Center was full with fans, and they cheered for both teams!” 

For DPR Korea, this tournament marks the 14th time that the women’s national team has participated in an IIHF Women’s World Championship. During their peak the team was ranked 12th in the world in 2001. 

DPRK scored an overtime victory against Great Britain the night before but dropped its first three opening games to sit at the bottom of the standings, and will next have an important final matchup against Slovenia tomorrow to avoid relegation. 

“This was a disappointing result but we told the girls to keep fighting. They have shown good spirit and we will continue to work hard and get ready for tomorrow,” said Chol Ho Pak, Deputy General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Association of the DPR Korea. 

DPR Korea’s participation wasn’t a given. A restricted travel budget, along with a fluctuating political climate which imposes a lot of bureaucracy on both sides whenever any DPR Korea sports team goes south to compete put the team’s participation in the tournament at risk. Late last year, IIHF President René Fasel travelled to Pyongyang to meet with the country’s sports minister and representatives from the Ice Hockey Association of the DPR Korea. With the help of POCOG, the visit helped ensure the team’s participation in the tournament. 

It was the general feeling from Fasel, POCOG, and the IIHF Council that it was important to make sure that DPR Korea would be able to get a share of the Olympic experience. 

“This is a special tournament this year for many reasons,” said Kolbenheyer. “The teams have had the opportunity to come to Korea and play at the 2018 Olympic venues, what I think is a very unique situation for them. The home team is the only one, which will return next year. Most of the others have never played in such arenas and before so many spectators. I’m sure that they will never forget that experience.” 

 

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