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Women's ice hockey roster announced amid public outcry against South-North team

South Korea’s national ice hockey team announced the full roster for the PyeongChang Olympics on Thursday, a day after South and North Korea agreed to field a joint women’s ice hockey team.

Sarah Murray, the national team coach, a former Canadian star and daughter of ex-National Hockey League coach Andy Murray, announced her 23-player team with 14 forwards, six blueliners and three goaltenders.

For the men’s team, coach Baek Ji-sun announced his 25 players, with 14 forwards, eight defenses and three goalies.

The entry list for the women’s team, however, may change as the two Koreas on Wednesday agreed to form a single team. The International Olympic Committee is to determine the size of the roster of the unified group over the weekend in a series of meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland.

President Moon Jae-in speaks to women’s hockey players during a visit to the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in speaks to women’s hockey players during a visit to the Jincheon National Training Center in North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The agreement for a unified team, which is being hailed by the liberal Moon Jae-in administration, has met with angry responses here, with those opposed to the decision claiming it is unfair to “sacrifice” players for political reasons.

An ice hockey team fan filed a petition Wednesday against Culture and Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan with the state’s human rights committee, to complain that forming a joint inter-Korean team would infringe the rights of South Korea’s 23 national players.

“If the team is formed, South Korean players will either lose their opportunities to play in the field or have to reduce their playing time,” the petition to the National Human Rights Commission reads. “It is totalitarian thinking to sacrifice the rights of a few for a greater cause.”

On Cheong Wa Dae’s online petition site, more than 100 posts expressed opposition to the joint team, with thousands of votes supporting them, as of Thursday.

Remarks from government officials have also fueled the controversy.

“South Korea’s women’s ice hockey team is not aiming for a medal. It ranks 22nd in the world, while the North’s team stands at 25th, so it would not be so disadvantageous,” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Tuesday, at a luncheon with reporters.

Culture and Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan also said there would not be any harm done to South Korea’s national team, as they would request to expand the number of entrants for the team, raising questions on fairness.

At the Olympics, South Korea is in Group B against world No. 5 Sweden, No. 6 Switzerland and No. 9 Japan.

The Swiss Ice Hockey Federation, while mentioning the importance of the resolve in diplomatic relations with the North, showed its disapproval toward the possible increase of entrants.

On Wednesday, before the agreement on the joint women’s ice hockey team was reached, President Moon Jae-in visited an athletes training center to express encouragement. To the women’s ice hockey team, he said playing in one team with the North would be an opportunity to shed light on the sport, which does not enjoy much popularity in South Korea.

“The joint team means more than just getting the North to participate in the Olympics here. It could become the start of a much better inter-Korean relationship,” he told the national players.

“I do not believe our team’s strength will be enhanced with the participation of the North, but it would also help the success of the PyeongChang Olympics.”

On Tuesday, when a presidential official visited the team, goalkeeper Shin So-jung had expressed regret.

“When we first heard about the single inter-Korean team, it hurt. I also felt sorry for myself. But I see we cannot do much about it, so we will have to do our best to prepare for the games,” she said.

The ice hockey team’s coach, Murray, had also expressed shock and concerns.

“I cannot believe they are actually discussing the possibility of organizing a single (inter-Korean) team,” she said after arriving at Incheon Airport on Tuesday from the team’s field training in Minnesota in the United States.

“Adding somebody in, North Korean or South Korean, so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous for the team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long,” she added.

While it would be the first unified team of the two countries to compete in the Olympics, the two countries have played in joint teams twice before -- at the world table tennis championships hosted in Japan and the world under-20 football championships in Portugal, both in 1991.

By Jo He-rim (